Faces in God's House
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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!”
We can recognize all
God’s people through these important decisions.
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
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 www.AmericanCatholic.org.