home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
May 6, 2008

Preparing for Ministry in Multicultural Communities - What Is Religion's Purpose? How Can This Purpose Be Shown to Others? - Ministry in a World of Skyrocketing Food Costs - The Roots of Immigration - and More!

In this edition:
-- What the skyrocketing cost of food means for social ministry.
-- Causes of the rapid rise in food prices.
-- Preparation for ministry in multicultural communities.
-- Serving the next generation of Latino Catholics in the U.S.
-- Exposing the roots of immigration.
-- Current quotes to ponder: Book with names of sexual abuse victims given to pope; situating those with wavering faith inside the faith community; keeping the efficiency of charitable works in perspective.
-- What is religion for?
-- Responding to a post-religious spirituality: Accent on the Eucharist.
-- Upcoming 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What Does the Skyrocketing Cost of Food Mean for Social Ministry?

Hunger - abroad and at home - always is a concern for the church's social ministry. But the huge, current rise in food prices worldwide means that hunger is fast becoming a new and possibly unprecedented global emergency.

The effects of the worldwide, skyrocketing cost of food can be seen not only in heightened levels of hunger and poverty, but in the anger and violence already witnessed in a number of nations, according to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

Anger over rising food prices "is palpable across the globe," according to Sean Callahan, CRS executive vice president for overseas operations. He noted that the high cost of food already has sparked violent protests across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. CRS believes that both short-term and long-term approaches to the food crisis are needed; that means providing aid today and enabling farmers to grow more food for the future.

It is the poor who suffer most evidently from the current surge in food prices. But CRS said that the crisis also is "eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments."

CRS said that the "spike in food prices is not just a short-term crisis. The International Food Policy Research Institute is projecting high commodity prices to last for the next decade."

Callahan commented on the impact of the crisis in poor nations. "If a typical family living on $2 per day or less used to spend more than half their income on food, what happens when prices suddenly increase by more than 30 percent? People go hungry," he said.

In Lesotho, many families need 50 percent of their income for food, so when food costs rise, many people get pushed over the edge, CRS observed. The agency said that in Guatemala salaries barely cover the cost of food, that more and more Egyptians can't afford their daily bread and that in Ethiopia increasing numbers of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are living on the streets.

Causes of the Food Price Hikes

The rapid rise of food costs is stoked by increased fuel costs, unpredictable weather in key food-producing countries and demand "from emerging economies like India and China," Catholic Relief Services said.

Lisa Kuennen, director of the public resource group at CRS, told Catholic News Service that drought last year in Australia and Canada pushed wheat prices up, while flooding destroyed crops in various countries. Furthermore, high oil prices have increased the price of petroleum-based fertilizers and have led to higher transportation costs.

According to a May 1 CNS report, another factor is the rising standard of living in China and India, which has led to increased demand for luxury foods such as meat and milk. Because it takes seven or eight pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat, increased meat consumption drives up demand and increases the cost of grain.

Preparation for Ministry in Multicultural Communities

"The racial and ethnic diversity of the Catholic Church has grown tremendously in recent years, and it is likely to figure even more prominently in the life of our parishes over the course of the 21st century," writes Kenneth Johnson-Mondragon. In an April 9 paper titled "Ministry in Multicultural and National/Ethnic Parishes," issued by Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership, a project of six national ministerial organizations, Johnson-Mondragon says:

"It appears that our parishes have significant challenges ahead if they hope to provide culturally appropriate pastoral care and accompaniment to their members in the coming years. The heart of the challenge lies in the development of adequately prepared pastoral leaders with the requisite linguistic and cultural competence and the proper pastoral models to serve all the faithful in their community - and to lead the people in developing the skills needed to work together both within and across cultures to carry out the mission of the church."

Johnson-Mondragon is director of research and publications for Fe Y Vida, a national organization serving Hispanic youth and young adults. "The data show," he says, "that the U.S. Catholic Church is poised for a demographic shift from a Euro-American majority to a Hispanic-American majority in the near future, while Asian, African-American, Pacific-Islander and Native-American Catholics will figure more prominently in the racial mix."

"At a minimum, all professional ministers [in the U.S.] should have basic skills for intercultural communication," Johnson-Mondragon writes. He suggests that dioceses and parishes "work together to provide intercultural communication workshops for paid parish staff, volunteer workers and key community leaders (i.e. pastoral council members) in bicultural and multicultural communities."

Furthermore, Johnson-Mondragon says, "seminarians and students in graduate ministry formation programs should be expected to specialize in a particular language/culture of their choice." He notes that bishops may want to provide requirements of their own "for language studies based on the cultural diversity and pastoral needs in their own diocese."

This kind of preparation "represents a serious investment of time and effort on the part of the ministry student," he writes. He says, "Linguistic and cultural competence are acquired over a period of years in a process that never ends."

Serving the Next Generation of Latino Catholics in the U.S.

"A pastoral plan for the next generation of Latinos [in the U.S.] must be as diverse as the people themselves," according to Agustin Gurza. In an article titled "Ni Aqui nor There" in the February 2008 edition of U.S. Catholic magazine, he wrote, "The key, some say, is realizing that there is no single answer any longer." Gurza is a Los Angeles Times staff writer and columnist specializing in Latino culture.

Now, for the first time, "more U.S. Latino Catholics were born in the United States than in a foreign country," Gurza said. U.S.-born Latinos "inhabit the limbo of a bicultural world - too Americanized to identify totally with their roots, yet still too Latino to abandon them."

"The demographic sands are shifting," Gurza wrote. He believes that "bridge people" or "gente puente" will be needed to serve the Latino-American population of today and tomorrow. These bridge people "can be clergy or lay, Latino or Anglo, young or old. The only requirement is that they be comfortable with dual cultural identities and allow this growing number of bicultural Catholics to be as American or as Latino as they need to be."

Gurza cited University of Notre Dame theologian Timothy Matovina, who stated: "You can't say, 'All right, for third-generation Latinos who don't speak Spanish anymore but who want to be connected to their culture, you do A, B, C, and Latinos will be fine.' No, you need a method of listening and of community building, a method that understands the complex interrelation between culture and faith." Gurza then commented:

"That's a tall order for a church strapped for cash and priests. To get the job done, new lay leaders will be needed with the ability to cut across all the old dividing lines -- between residents and new arrivals, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking, Anglo and Latino."

While the children of Latino immigrants "are growing up in a different world with a vastly transformed set of circumstances," Gurza said many Latino church leaders believe it would be "a serious mistake to assume that the paradigm of assimilation that worked with European immigrants in the 19th century applies to the children of Latino immigrants today." In a way different from that of earlier generations of immigrants, "Latinos hold onto a cultural Catholicism rooted in their ethnicity, their family loyalties and their national origins."

Gurza's article can be found online at www.uscatholic.org (click on "February").

Exposing Migration's Root Causes

"Widespread migration is one of the chief signs of our times," Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, said in a recent address to a special meeting with Latin American bishops in Napa, Calif. "In general, the reasons for migration are both political and economic," the archbishop said. "The widespread immigration we see is closely related to the processes of economic globalization and internationalization." Archbishop Gomez spoke Feb. 1.

Globalization presents many economic opportunities, but it also creates many problems, the archbishop said. While laws have been developed "to govern the flow of capital and money, we have no standards for the movement of laborers," he said. Thus, "money, capital and other resources now flow more freely" among nations, but "the men and women who do the work" cannot move in the same free way. Archbishop Gomez said, "In the new economy there are many safeguards for businesses and financial institutions, but very few for workers."

"Globalization has exposed - and in some cases made worse - the economic inequalities and injustices that exist within and between nations," according to the archbishop. He said: "These inequalities, the poverty in which so many of our people live, are the root causes of immigration. People leave their homes and their families because they are desperate -- because in their home countries they can't provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Book Presented to Pope During Meeting With Abuse Victims: "A very special moment for me and for the Archdiocese of Boston took place on Thursday [April 17] when the Holy Father met with five survivors of clergy sexual abuse. At that meeting with the victims, we handed the Holy Father a book with the first names of over 1,000 victims. It was very well done, with all the names written in calligraphy and very artistically done. With the book we tried to convey that those survivors attending were representing all victims, even those whose names were not written. The names in the book correspond with those who came to us in the archdiocese to report abuse in the last 50 years." (From the April 25 blog of Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley)

Situating Those of Wavering Faith Inside the Faith Community: "When students speak to me about their crises of faith, especially in their inability to 'accept' this or that doctrinal point or give allegiance to a particular moral teaching, I almost never begin my response with a full-throttled counterargument to alleviate their wavering allegiance. I ask them whether they want to be close to God as a follower of Jesus. If they reply in the affirmative, I point them to something that provides the right context to think about their 'wavering faith' - work as a volunteer or join a prayer group or sit quietly at the grotto or in the basilica on campus. In other words: Find an entry point to bring their lives before God. When we find our places in the church we soon also discover the truth that where two or three are gathered, there we will find the Lord." (From "A Quirky Look at Catholics," by Lawrence Cunningham, a University of Notre Dame theologian, in the spring 2008 edition of Church magazine)

Keeping the Efficiency of Charitable Work in Perspective: "The attentive reader of sacred Scripture clearly sees that the charitable gestures of Jesus and the compassion of the first Christians were always intended to point to the loving kindness of the heavenly Father. The church should never underplay the sense of good works that point to God. If what counts [in an atmosphere involving public aid] is the efficiency of the [charitable] action, one can easily forget that for Christians the action should carry a deeper meaning as a sign not only of human compassion but also of God's goodness." (From remarks April 7 to the bishops of England and Wales by Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum)

What Is Religion For?

1. Post-Religious Spirituality

"Practitioners of traditional religion are generally reluctant to reduce what they do to the model of a corporate adherence to a set of doctrines and policies," Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury said in a speech in London April 11. He was a speaker in the 2008 Cardinal's Lectures. The challenge he examined was that posed today by people who view organized religion as not much more than a set of doctrines and moral policies, which they suspect get in the way of one's own search for God and personal integrity.

Archbishop Williams quoted the following remark attributed to Bono, leader of the famed U2 rock group and well known for his work to alleviate world hunger: "I'm not into religion. I am completely anti-religious. Religion is a term for a collection, a denomination. I am interested in personal experience of God."

In the archbishop's analysis, "religion as understood by those who find it unacceptable in the way Bono outlines is something seen essentially in terms of an appeal to the will: Decide to believe these propositions and to obey these commands." For those who share this view of what religion is, "the appeal to religious faith invites the response, 'Why should I?'" the archbishop observed.

2. Responding to a Post-Religious Spirituality: Accent on the Eucharist

How can people committed to religious practice respond to those who dismiss religion for reasons like those found in the words above attributed to Bono? A starting point, Archbishop Williams proposed, is to turn to the eucharistic assembly - to remember its priority for the life of faith and Christian identity.

In Christian history, "the idea of 'the Christian religion' is a late and weak formulation: What first exists is the assembly as a fresh configuring of the whole of experienced reality - a new set of human relations, a new horizon for what human beings are capable of, a new understanding of the material world and its capacities," said the archbishop.

For the archbishop, Christians celebrating the Eucharist are not doing what some with a post-religious mentality might imagine they are dong: They are not "affirming a set of propositions with the help of an audiovisual program." Rather, they are "inhabiting, in speech and action, a drama which purports to 'relocate' [them] in the space occupied by Jesus Christ in his eternal relationship with the Father, a relocation which is enabled by his sacrificial death and his rising from the grave and ascension into heaven."

Those concerned about responding to a post-religious spirituality that is dismissive of religion need to be concerned about their eucharistic practice - their celebration of the Eucharist, Archbishop Williams suggested. The believer "should be asking whether what happens when the assembly meets to adore God and lay itself open to his action looks at all like a new and transforming environment in which human beings are radically changed." He said:

"If we who adhere to revealed faith don't want to be simply at the mercy of this culture, to be absorbed into its own uncritical stories about the autonomous self and its choices, then we need to examine the degree to which our practice looks like a new world. And if this debate drives us Christians back to thinking through more carefully and critically what the great Anglican Benedictine scholar Gregory Dix meant by describing Christians as a new 'species,' a humanity defined in its eucharistic practice, it will have served us well."

It wasn't the archbishop's intent to dismiss the value of doctrine or moral teaching. Rather, his point was that "the Christian alternative to the post-religious spirituality" he described is not simply "an intellectual and moral system, but the corporately experienced reality of the kingdom, the space that has been cleared in human imagination and self-understanding by the revealing events of Jesus' life. Standing in this place, I am made aware of what is fundamental and indestructible about my human identity: that I am the object of divine intention and commitment, a being freely created and never abandoned.

"Standing in this place, I am also challenged to examine every action or policy in my life in the light of what I am; and I am, through the common life of the 'assembly,' made able to change and to be healed, to feed and be fed in relations with others in the human city."

Sixtieth Anniversary: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights arrives Dec. 10. Mary Ann Glendon, new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, spoke this spring with Catholic News Service about the coming anniversary and the declaration's importance. Today it serves "as the principal common reference point for cross-cultural discussions of how we are to order the human future in an increasingly interdependent world," she said in a May 5 CNS report.

The declaration's drafting and its adoption by almost every country in the world demonstrate that all peoples can recognize some basic common principles, Glendon pointed out. She said that the declaration's promoters 60 years ago were not naive optimists, but they saw that it was possible to promote a clear enunciation and gradual acceptance of "a small core of principles -- principles so fundamental to human dignity that they could be called universal."

Pope Benedict XVI had the upcoming 60th anniversary observances in mind when he spoke at U.N. headquarters in New York April 18. He insisted in his speech that human rights are not arbitrary and cannot be redefined at will "in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks." The pope called for a redoubling of effort on behalf of human rights today "in the face of pressure to reinterpret the foundations of the declaration and to compromise its inner unity."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights "has reinforced the conviction that respect for human rights is principally rooted in unchanging justice," the pope said. Clearly, "the rights recognized and expounded in the declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high point of God's creative design for the world and for history," the pope added.