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Celebrating Many Faces in God's House

Reflects Church in This Country

Connecting to the Worldwide Church

Seven Suggestions


Why are a Vietnamese archbishop, an African-American pastor from Washington, D.C., a Sister of Mercy from Jamaica, another sister from Belize, a lecturer in American Indian studies and the president of Bread for the World coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center this month?

All of them will address “Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God’s House” (July 6-9). Almost 3,000 parish and diocesan leaders will attend this event sponsored by the Hispanic Affairs Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), assisted by other conference offices (

Participants will reflect on how their unique ethnic backgrounds and life experiences can help the Church spread Jesus’ Good News.

Previous encuentros in 1972, 1977 and 1985 focused exclusively on the experiences and needs of Hispanic Catholics. Encuentro 2000 will go beyond that, encompassing the Church’s full range of cultures.

The general sessions, topical breakout sessions, small-group meetings with more than 50 bishops, special liturgies, meals and other celebrations will reflect Catholicism’s rich cultural diversity.

Bishop Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles and chairman of Encuentro 2000, says, “The Church in the United States is a microcosm of the world. When we celebrate and pray as one people, we give evidence that world harmony is possible.”

Reflects Church in This Country

The Catholic Church in the United States has always been multicultural from its earliest Spanish, French and English roots.

By 1900, massive immigration from northern, southern and eastern Europe, as well as other parts of the world, made the Catholic Church in the United States a microcosm of the Universal Church. Nativist bigots despised Catholicism for its many “foreigners.”

The Catholic Church helped immigrants maintain their faith while adjusting to a new world and, in most cases, to a new language. Many Church leaders promoted assimilation.

The once-favored “melting pot” image to describe the Americanizing process, however, has given way to “mosaic” or “tossed salad” imagery. Here each cultural group remains distinctive while enriching the others.

According to the NCCB, Hispanics are now 11.5 percent of the total U.S. population but almost 40 percent of its Catholics. Between 1990 and 1996, our country’s Catholic Hispanic population increased 27 percent. By 2005, Hispanics will be the country’s largest ethnic minority.

African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans make up 12.1, 3.8 and 0.7 percent of the entire U.S. population. How many in those groups identify themselves as Catholics? Respectively, 9.2, 27.1 and 21 percent.

Connecting to the Worldwide Church

Encuentro 2000 reminds Catholics here that they belong to a worldwide Church, which has a mixed record in respecting its members’ ethnic gifts.

The pope showed regret for such mistreatment when he prayed at the Jubilee Day of Pardon on March 12, 2000: “Lord of the world, Father of all, through your Son you asked us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us. Yet Christians have often denied the Gospel. Yielding to a mentality of power, they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions. Be patient and merciful toward us, and grant us your forgiveness!”

Seven Suggestions

We can recognize all God’s people through these important decisions.

1. Celebrate diversity. Don’t simply tolerate it. Different as we are, we are all made in God’s image and likeness. Aren’t both truths important?

2. Be positive about the Church’s cultural diversity if friends, relatives or fellow parishioners start criticizing other cultural expressions of faith.

3. Join parish or diocesan observances for the Jubilee Day for Ethnic Diversity (July 8).

4. Remember that there is a great diversity in the communion of saints today—as there has always been.

5. Speak up against racial or ethnic prejudice.

6. Realize that people pray best in their native language. That’s true for native speakers of English and native speakers of other languages.

7. Offer warm hospitality to newcomers in your parish. We worship best when the people praying alongside us make us feel welcome.

One of the eucharistic prayers approved in 1995 for use in the United States addresses God the Father this way: “Through the gospel proclaimed by your Son, you have brought together in a single Church people of every nation, culture and tongue. Into it you breathe the power of your Spirit, that in every age your children may be gathered as one.”

May Encuentro 2000 help us make that prayer truly our own. —P.M.

For a single copy of the June 2000 Catholic Update, “Many Faces in God’s House,” by Virgilio Elizondo, Jamie Phelps, O.P., and Peter C. Phan, send $1 and a self-addressed envelope to: Many Faces, St. Anthony Messenger, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, OH 45210. Bulk discounts are available through 1-800-488-0488 or




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