Parishes called to find ‘unity in diversity,’ speaker says

Ministry leaders from more than 40 parishes, religious communities and other Catholic organizations attended Leadership Day April 27 in St. Joseph, where they participated in an interactive presentation on “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers.”

The day was designed to help everyone in the church, both lay and ordained ministers, to be more interculturally competent in their ministries. The presenter was Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, assistant director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“What this means is to have the capacity to communicate, relate and collaborate with people from different cultures,” Aguilera-Titus said.

While his expertise is in “shared parishes” — those that celebrate Mass in more than one language — the models he used could be applied in any parish or institution.

“One of my favorite quotes from the day is, ‘There is unity in diversity. Without diversity we wouldn’t have unity,’” said Brenda Kresky, one of the organizers  of Leadership Day and diocesan consultant for faith formation.

“Diversity is apparent in all parishes in a variety of ways. When we are open, tolerant, and inclusive of each other, we are in solidarity with each other, and when we are in solidarity we are building up the body of Christ and the whole world,” she said.

Father Mitchell Bechtold, left, visits with Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, assistant director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a break at Leadership Day in St. Joseph April 27. (Photo by Kristi Anderson / The Visitor)

Father Mitchell Bechtold, parochial vicar of St. Andrew in Greenwald, St. John the Baptist in Meire Grove, St. Mary in Melrose and St. Michael in Spring Hill, has long been interested in Hispanic ministry. He felt the message he heard at Leadership Day could “not be more relevant to our diocese.”

“Every parish is composed of, and complemented with, a diversity of cultures. Some of these cultures are Latino and Anglo — Spanish-speaking and English-speaking — while other cultures may be the ‘young and the more experienced’ of our parishes,” he said.

“Mr. Aguilera-Titus’ emphasis on finding unity in diversity was particularly moving and insightful,” Father Bechtold said.

“Catholics in the United States of America are being called to respond to this emerging cultural diversity in our dioceses with a spirit of evangelism and eagerness to encounter Christ in others. The opposing spirit of fear and isolationism, particularly to our Latino brothers and sisters — many of whom are Catholic — is one which is toxic to the Christian life. Christ sent out his first disciples not only to those who would like or understand them, but to all the world.”

Melissa Anderson, business manager at St. Andrew Church in Elk River, said the title of the event triggered her interest in attending. St. Andrew’s began Hispanic ministry in September 2016 by proclaiming the second reading in Spanish. In mid-October, they offered their first Spanish Mass, which has continued through the help of priests in the diocese.

“The presentation was helpful for us to learn the steps and methods to work across cultural boundaries,” Anderson said. “It involves knowledge, skills and attitudes. It was affirming with the movements mapped out to us that we are going in the right direction.”

Anderson was particularly struck by a “fish out of water” exercise where participants were asked to call to mind a time they felt they were taken out of their culture and then to share the experience with others at their table.

“I recalled [Benedictine] Father Arockiya Newton, who has been newly assigned to our parish,” she explained. “He landed on April 3, 2017, from India. It is his first time in the United States. Things we take for granted are being explained to him. For example, he asked, ‘Can we drink water out of the faucet?’  He explained his water from home needed to be boiled. We also introduced him to pizza and chicken wild rice soup. He has introduced us to some of his Indian cooking.”

Anderson said St. Andrew’s will continue to engage in the development process of integration and inclusion, which Aguilera-Titus outlined in his presentation. This includes a series of nine “movements” that include reaching out and meeting people where they are at, making people feel at home and strengthening a sense of ownership in the parish.

St. Andrew’s had already begun to implement some of the components Aguilera-Titus described, and Anderson recognized during the presentation that the parish was already planning elements of succeeding movements, including adding Hispanic committees into parish leadership, translating a portion of the bulletin into Spanish and integrating faith formation programs, which, in the past, have been separate.

“It is good for us to see that we are moving forward in the correct sequence in order for it to be successful,” Anderson said. “We are excited to take the next steps.”

Jim Opelia, principal of Sacred Heart School in Staples, attended the presentation to learn more about how to make his school more inviting to people from various cultures, he said.

“The speaker was excellent, enlightening us to the fact that people from various cultures have very different norms in their relationships with others,” he said. “I was most moved when I heard how when people in the United States interact with each other, the task is the most important focus, and the relationship is the second focus. In the Latino culture, the relationship is the most important focus, while the task is the second focus. This was humbling to me, as I reflected on my own interactions with others.

“It was a great learning experience for me as a principal of a Catholic school that hasn’t had a lot of diversity in its population in the past but is slowly becoming more diverse,” he added.

Father Bechtold was pleased that Aguilar-Titus’ presentation affirmed many of the good things already happening in the diocese, “while it also provided effective recommendations in helping us to take our next steps toward ecclesial integration and inclusion,” he said.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I pray that they may be one Father, just as you and I are one,” Father Bechtold said. Aguilera-Titus’ message “calls Catholics back to an attitude of hospitality, rather than hostility, toward those of a culture different than our own.

“He was keen to remind the people that the parish is more than a membership: it is a territory,” he added. “Catholics are to be concerned not only for the registered members of their parish, but for all the residents of their local community.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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