Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
in God's House
The Church in America is one of many races
and ethnic groups. Each of these traditions brings gifts to Catholic
life and worship. Each brings the experiences of a people which,
shared around the Lord's table, is the Body of Christ in America.
How can our Church find new ways to share these gifts? How can our
diverse people work together to promote the common good? Perhaps
the first step is to learn more about each other.
In this Update we'll hear from three
pioneers in inculturation, the practice of bringing the Church to
life in the culture of a local people. Inculturation is one of the
key themes of Vatican II and, more recently, regional Synods, including
the 1998 Synod for America. The three groups highlighted hereHispanics,
African Americans and Asiansoffer a sampling of the possibilities.
They were chosen because each is "knocking on the doors" of the
Church that has grown over the centuries in America.
Of course, a short article like this can't
spotlight everyone, but, in a spirit of Christlike understanding
and goodwill, everyone can learn from the experiences of these groups.
The more we can respect each other's differences as gifts to the
Church, and become more welcoming parishes, the more fully we will
be truly catholic, universal people.
Several years ago, I remember Archbishop
Edward McCarthy of Miami saying, "Hispanics are not a problem to
be dealt with, but a gift to be appreciated." I agree with the archbishop.
We have a lot to receive from the Catholicism of this country, but
we equally have a lot to contribute. Like every other ethnic group
in U.S. Catholicism, the Hispanic religious heritage of our ancestors
is a great fountain of religious wisdom, beauty, devotion and inspiration.
I would like to offer a few suggestions
of some of the more important contributions we Hispanics are making
to Catholic life in this country: It is home-centered, festive,
devotional, visual and avant-garde.
1. Home-centered. Hispanic Catholicism
is a religion of the homereligion casera! Because of
the great absence of priests throughout Latin America, the main
source of religious enrichment and continuity had been the religion
centered around the home altar which created a sacred space in every
home. It was normally presided over by our abuelitas (grandmothers)
who led us in prayer, gave the blessings and transmitted the religious
wisdom of our people. The tradition of the home altar is a great
contribution to a culture that has secularized home life or limited
God to the Church. The home altar sanctifies the family by centering
it around God through the altar.
This religion casera gives rise
to one of the greatest contributions we Hispanic Catholics have
to offer U.S. society today: making God easily accessible to everyone.
As great and important as our priests and official liturgies are,
you don't have to go through a priest or an official ritual of the
Church to enter into communion with God. Hispanic Catholics have
a marvelous appreciation for the presence of God in daily life and
a deep awareness of how the sacred penetrates every dimension of
2. Festive. Hispanic Catholicism
is more festive-based than obligation-based. It is a real celebration
of the great feasts (fiestas) that gather us as a human and
worshiping community. As we build the family, Hispanic Catholics
build community as "pueblo de Dios." Through the common celebrations
such as Posadas, Navidad, Semana Santa, Dia de la Virgen
and other special feasts, we come together not simply as individuals
who gather but as an intimately interconnected group of people.
These feasts give us a profound sense of belonging to the communion
of saints and a connectedness to the divine life.
3. Devotional. Popular devotions
like novenas, votive candles, holy cards, the rosary, the Blessed
Sacrament, home shrines, and other devotions to Jesus, Mary and
the saintsall these celebrate and keep alive the best of the
Catholic tradition of making God present and easily accessible to
anyone and everyone. We have no doubt whatsoever about the very
real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as a loving person
who is there for us. We easily visit "El Santissimo," tell
him our problems, pour our heart out to him, converse, listen and
receive divine consolation and insight from him. We like to see
him placed in a prominent and central place in our churches for
he is the one who truly presides over our celebrations and accompanies
us in our struggles. Hispanics draw from the sacraments of the Church,
but they bring to the Church the sacramentality of life, that is,
how God penetrates all of reality and is present in the ordinary
aspects of life.
4. Visual. Hispanic Catholics help
retrieve the very rich artistic, image tradition of the Church.
The best of theologies will pass away and be easily forgotten, but
a good image will continue throughout generations. Especially the
images, paintings and artwork that Hispanic Catholics bring to the
Church allow all peoplefrom the youngest to the oldest, from
the richest to the poorest, from the illiterate to the most educatedto
see and appreciate the great marvels of God's interventions in human
history. We love the visual, we love our murals, we want to reintroduce
what liturgists have driven out: the tradition of the visual representation
of the great mysteries of God's love for us, adorning the walls
and windows of our churches and thus making the whole Church experience
a visual communication of God's love through the various mysteries
of our faith which can be seen and appropriated by everyone.
5. Avant-garde. Hispanic Catholics
have been in the vanguard of the renewal of Vatican II, introducing
such breakthrough movements as the Cursillo, upon which many of
our Church programs are based today; the basic Christian communities
and community organizing movements which are redefining the Church;
and today the positive role and importance of the popular religious
practices of the people as an essential element of the life of the
African-American or Black American Catholic
culture was born when African traditional worldviews and values
met those of Catholic Christianity in the New World. The traditional
African worldview was carried in the minds and hearts of Africans
as they were indentured or enslaved in the Catholic communities
of North and South America.
In the African worldview all creation is
sacred because of its origin and relationship to God. The community
is central to the identity and development of the human person.
The African worldview could be summed up: "To be human is to belong
to the whole community." Individual identity is forged within the
context of the extended family or community composed of God, creation,
the ancestors and one's mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins,
aunts, uncles and all other members of the community. The focus
of preserving and developing life as a God-given gift even in the
midst of tremendous oppression rests upon these three central values
of God, life and community.
African-American worldview and values
These three central values are reflected in sociological research
on African Americans. Social scientists identify seven consistent
values held by the African Americans: 1) the love of learning, education
and skills development; 2) deep spiritual values as expressed through
church membership and prayer; 3) a quest for self-governance through
political involvement; 4) a commitment to service of others; 5) a
commitment to cooperation with other people for economic, political
and social goals; 6) race pride and 7) the development of black-owned
These, then, are some of the positive values
and beliefs which have sustained African-American families over
the years: spiritual values, educational achievement, family ties,
economic independence, strong kinship bonds, strong work orientation,
adaptability of family roles, strong achievement orientation and
strong religious orientation, to name a few. In short, family, God
and community remained the foundational values for Africans in America.
Authentically Black and Truly Catholic
In the aftermath of the civil-rights movement and Vatican II, Black
Catholics in America have consciously sought to embrace their identity
as authentically Black and truly Catholic.
Along the way we shed some aspects of our
pre-Vatican II European cultural assimilation. We adopted Vatican
II's emphasis on cultural adaptation and the Church's subsequent
emphasis on inculturation. In doing so, Black Catholics have developed
distinct African-American Catholic worship styles and rituals which
reflect the rhythms, songs and images of God and Jesus important
to our distinct situation in life.
In our intentional commitment to be "authentically
Black and truly Catholic" we have reclaimed the spirituals by which
our slave ancestors evoked the presence and intervention of God
and others as they struggled for freedom in the midst of oppression.
We have employed traditional and contemporary gospel music since
these reflect our biblical spirituality and our contemporary religious
striving. We are developing rituals and symbols which symbolize
our African past and our African-American Catholic present.
New celebrations and rituals are emerging.
Black Catholics are increasingly celebrating those among our ancestors
who embodied, preserved and transmitted the distinct Black Catholic
religious virtues and values both throughout the African diaspora
in general and within the U.S. Catholic community in particular.
The lives of Josephine Bakita, Pierre Toussaint,
Henriette Delille and Elizabeth Lange are currently in the process
of formal canonization. Thus they will join the ranks of Black Catholic
saints from the Americas, most notably St. Martin De Porres. Finally
some African-American Catholics have adapted the celebration of
Kwanzaa (our annual celebration of African-American values) by developing
Christian versions of the celebration to reinforce and strengthen
our traditional religious and family values.
African-American Catholic gifts
Catholic Christianity insisted that slaves were human and possessed
immortal souls. That, combined with Catholicism's commitment to human
equality and freedom, made it possible for slaves to adopt Catholicism
as a context in which they could nurture and sustain their traditional
religious life and values and develop a distinct spirituality.
African-American Catholic spirituality
is biblically rooted. It is Trinitarian (God-centered, Jesus-centered
and Spirit-centered). It is socially responsible, mystical, joyful
and creative. This spirituality is concretely manifested in Black
Catholic efforts to combat the social sins of racism, sexism, classism
and cultural imperialism.
As African and African-American Catholics
join in communion with their Catholic brothers and sisters who are
not Blackand their Black brothers and sisters who are not
Catholicwe can enrich the Christian and religious world with
our distinct gifts of spirituality. These have allowed us to embody
the virtues of fortitude and perseverance in the midst of enormous
and consistent systemic oppression, devaluation and marginalization
in our Church and society.
We can share our deep sense of joy and
peace as we give witness to God's compassionate care to us in the
midst of our suffering. We can share our ability to invite others
into community as we forgive and seek reconciliation with those
who failed to see us as fully human brothers and sisters gifted
with God's grace. We can invite others to join us in our struggle
for social justice and our joyous celebration of the Eucharist enriched
by our distinct music and song that celebrate God's love made manifest
in and through the presence and actions of Jesus the Liberator and
the Holy Spirit.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Since World War II millions of Asians and
Pacific Islanders have emigrated to the United States. These people
trace their roots from various countries of Asia and the Pacific
islands comprising Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. They include
principally the Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Asian Indians, Koreans,
Vietnamese, Hmoungs, Laotians, Cambodians, Hawaiians, Samoans and
Guamanians. Their presence has profound and extensive implications
for every facet of life in both the American society and the American
Within 50 years, 10% of the U.S. population
will be Asian! Among Asian Americans, the largest number of Catholics
is found among Filipinos, Vietnamese and Koreans. When we consider
these multifaceted peoples, it is important to remember that there
is no generic "Asian" but only very distinct Asian ethnic and national
groups, composed of individuals. Each Asian country has its own
mode of being Catholic that reflects its cultural and religious
traditions. Yet there are some commonalities.
Instead of frenetic activism, Asians practice
love of silence and contemplation; instead of unbridled consumerism,
simplicity, frugal living and detachment; instead of physical and
psychological violence, harmony and nonviolence; instead of ecological
destruction, closeness to nature, respect for life and compassion
for all beings; instead of racism and sexism, tolerance and peaceful
coexistence; instead of antifamily ethos, filial piety toward parents,
elders and ancestors; instead of anti-intellectualism and moral
pragmatism, thirst for learning and philosophical inquiry; instead
of rugged individualism, a powerful sense of solidarity.
Asian-American Catholics stand between
a more conservative pre-Vatican II Catholicism and a more progressive
Vatican II Catholicism. Which side they favor largely depends on
the Church of their native countries or even of particular regions
of these countries. In spite of regional and national differences,
these traits seem to be common to American Asians' experiences of
1. Institutional. Asian-American
Catholics tend to exaggerate the role of visible and canonical structures
and the importance of the hierarchy. This outlook is strongly buttressed
by the Confucian culture with its emphasis on deference for authority
2. Passive tendencies. Despite the
fact that the Asian-American Catholic laity, especially the younger
ones, are highly educated and successful in various professions,
they have as yet no effective voice in the day-to-day operation
of parish life.
3. Lack of openness to other religions
and cultures. Asian-American Catholics still look on the followers
of other religions with suspicion, despite Vatican II's insistence
on the necessity of interreligious dialogue. Furthermore, they have
barely begun to reflect upon, much less enact, the task and ways
of inculturating the faith into their own cultures.
4. Individualistic piety. Asian-American
Catholics often are also reluctant to take upon themselves the challenges
of social justice, even if most of them are vigorously opposed to
Communism, and understandably so, given their experience of Communist
oppression. In general, Asian-American Catholicism is still heavily
shaped by individualistic pietism.
5. Vocation-oriented. One area in
which Asian-American Catholics have already visibly transformed
the American Church is the number of priestly and religious vocations
they (in particular the Vietnamese) have produced. This large number
of vocations could be attributed to the high respect in which priests
and religious are held among Asians, but certainly it has roots
in the devout faith of Asian-American Catholic families.
6. Devout. The cultivation of popular
devotions is a distinguishing characteristic of many Asian-American
7. Festive. Intimately connected
with popular devotions, communal activities flourish, often in tandem
with sacramental celebrations (especially Baptism, marriage and
funerals), certain annual feasts (e.g., the New Year) and cultural
customs (e.g., death anniversaries).
8. Formed by the cross. The faith
of Asian Churches has been tested in the crucible of suffering and
even persecution. The memory of martyrdom is still fresh in the
minds of Asian-American Catholics, whether it is that of 26 Nagasaki
martyrs canonized in 1862, or 103 Koreans canonized in 1984, or
118 Vietnamese (including foreign missionaries) canonized in 1988.
More recently, many Asian-American Catholics
have suffered for their faith under the Communist regime (e.g.,
in China, Korea and Vietnam) and as a result have chosen exile in
the United States and elsewhere. While this experience might have
rigidified their conservative political views, it has no doubt enriched
and fortified their faith.
9. Asian in spirit. Asia is the
birthplace of almost all world religions (including Christianity!).
In Southeast Asia, the three main religious traditions are Confucian,
Taoist and Buddhist. Scratch the surface of every Southeast Asian
Catholic and you will find a Confucian, a Taoist and a Buddhist
or, more often than not, an indistinguishable mixture of the three.
They are socialized into these values and norms primarily through
thousands of proverbs, folk sayings, songs and, of course, family
rituals and cultural festivals. This rich and varied religious heritage
of Asian-American Catholics is a very significant contribution to
the American Church.
10. Compassionate. Most if not all
first-generation Asian immigrants in the United States have experienced
poverty before they came here. This experience makes Asian-American
Catholics sensitive to the sufferings and needs of their fellow
nationals and generous in their financial support for the Church
as well as for their relatives back home.
Next: World Religions (by Virginia