Even without uniformity, parish unity is possible

Ana Carnedo, Cristal Lopez, Andrea Fennimore and Yulissa Haro review document during youth group meeting at St. Joseph Parish in Salem. (Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin)

Catholic parishes in Oregon are moving from single cultures to what the U.S. bishops are calling “shared.” In a shared parish, people of more than one language, racial or cultural group celebrate the Eucharist and work to live out the gospel.

While the Catholic Church has been a conduit of immigrant adaptation throughout U.S. history, the nation’s bishops today are clear: the church’s mission is not to Americanize but to evangelize. The bishops say this means respecting languages and customs of discipleship. In other words, parishes need to find a way to achieve unity without enforcing uniformity.

Holy Trinity Parish in suburban Beaverton counts about 50 nationalities. Prominent are Filipinos and Vietnamese, as well as folks from Korea and India.

Even in this welcoming parish, the array of cultures poses challenges in what Deacon Brett Edmonson calls “small ways.” For example, Filipino liturgies trend elaborate and full, while Anglos prefer noble simplicity.

“There may be some tension over questions like, ‘How many rosaries do we say?’” says Edmonson.

But in basic matters, Holy Trinity achieves notable unity. Edmonson credits the high education level of parishioners, many of whom work in the nearby high-tech industry. Whatever their culture, they tend to be proficient at English. A common language speeds fellowship. Parishioners see each other at the office and so are more at ease in church.

Music and homilies, if crafted to touch everyone’s hearts, can bring all kinds of worshipers together, explains Edmonson. When it comes to culture disputes, the deacon’s final advice is: “charity and patience.”

Almost 60 of the 124 parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland have Hispanic ministry. Hispanics are the fastest growing group in Oregon Catholic parishes and around the nation.

“You’ve got to have an openness of heart,” says Holy Cross Father Joe Corpora, a former Portland pastor who now travels the country helping Catholic schools and parishes become more welcoming to Hispanics.

He thinks of Mexican Catholics as “God’s last-ditch effort to keep the Anglo church from becoming upper middle class, white and antiseptic.” The laugh line makes it clear that Anglos tend to be more efficient and liturgical while Latinos can be more relational and devotional. Everyone has truths to show others, Father Corpora explains.

The priest suggests that parish leaders begin by reviewing the census. Latinos will soon be a majority in U.S. parishes. Next, pastors should find a cultural mentor, someone who can answer candid questions. [More]


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