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Arkansas Catholic
Little Rock, Arkansas
August 26, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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August 26, 1990
 

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PAGE | S ARKANSAS CATHOLIC AUGUST 26, | 990 g @ 11 & I1... Rev. Thomas Wenski '"As new immigration continues and rem- ~nts of racism remain, Catholics should love, for anti respect each other so as to be a p~ll Of harmony for all people. " - Pope John II Immigration and racism have always Challenged the Catholic Church in AInerica in the 200 years since John b'_t~'ll became the new republic s first ~naan Catholic bishop. Much of Bishop ~arroll's time was taken up with the Problems of Catholic refugees. Church,s challenge tu lany came to America fleeing the rraoil in revolutionary France and ~ts ~10nies. Today, thousands come from , at sarae land, now known as Haiti, this ~eraisphere,s poorest nation. Immigration iurtl Haiti and'the other black Caribbean ,~ds presents an urgent challenge to tae Church " " ~ke the Hispanics, these black immi- ts are for the most part baptized 0lies The challenge is for the U~S. r...J__~Urch ~ live up to its catholicity as a l~'~'~.et of harmony for all of its peoples." -'-lOee --~f d Jesus reveals God as the Father all, then all His children should find a aC)lll e m the Church, our Father s house. ~.hUSt be incuhurated fa e challenge today is not unlike that a~Cecl by the primitive Church of the Acts re_the Apostles. The diaconate arose in POnse to the Greek-soeakin~ converts' ~'leVance that their orp'hans a~nd widows Were being neglected. ,~tater, the conversion of Cornelius and qle Contr - - t= oversy over arcumcasmn and the "t~saic , - ._ Law that led to the Church s first tum eru m made ~t clear that all Wer J sale J~s. e called to salvation, not just the plant the Gospel. Too often in the American Church we have confused catholicity with uniform- icy. If we expect people to be like us before we evangelize them, ff we expect them to learn English first, or to adopt our mentality or our dress before we make them feel welcome in God's house, then we are laying down burdens to salvation not required by Christ. We become like the Judaizers who opposed St. Paul forgetting that ~we are saved in the same way as they are: by the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11). The immigrants rightly resisted such assaults on their cultural identity and after no little bickering the immigrants were allowed to have their own churches with priests who understood them. The nationality or personal parishes represented the American genius of in- venting new structures for new realities. They bore witness to the richness of Ca- tholicism in its being able to be at home in so many different cultures. And, be- cause these parishes were a vital part of ~ea!Vation was catholic, universal. refore, the Church in which one was t~ ~.~rk out his or her salvation had also Z catholic, open to all. everyday life of the immigrants, they lb._ rough its catholicism the Church "~res" successfully kept the faith alive and as- ~f Ch ~ the mystery of the Incarnation tk_ rtst and continues the miracle of sured its transmission to their children. "~t ti These first immigrants were not "lost" .. rst Pentecost. The Church cannot ~ttlenlified solely with one particular to the Church. In the late "50s much he Ua-e and still claim to be catholic. To discussion was about how the church in some countries, especially in France, had ,,. truly catholic the church must be lost the working class, The real problem ~~~~ff~i~e~h~i was not that the church "lost" Frances working class but that the church never had it. The working class emerged in France UThe. in the cathofic Church t tla S'.ts not so much "losing" ie tramigrants as it is not to them. ;i i qelh, t i af, out He came first to the lost sheep ~'i [ p~rael. So the Incarnation was very k [ tha. CUlar: Jesus, the God-Man, was a ~: [ t~l~Ughly Jewish man, a man of the '~[ tha~e .and times in which He lived, u_ghly ra Uhr with that particular !| -~ ~- the world in which He lived. [ f~_. the Sane way, the Church cannot be ' : ~igqa in any world in which it wishes to k at a time when the Church's influence was at an all-time low. While maintaining an effective presence in the rural villages, the Church did not follow those who left the villages to become the urban prole- tariat of industrialized France. In many ways, it could be said that the Church was invisible, and therefore foreign, to the emerging working class and that the working class remained invisible to the Church until it was too late. In the same way, unlike the American Church of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is not so much "losing" the immigrants as it is not laying claim to them. The immigrants are too far out of the loop of our concerns to be visible to us. The American Catholic Church is far too middle class and therefore too for- eign for the vast majority of immigrants to feel comfortable in, even if they find a Catholic parish to go to. In 1985, I remember stopping briefly in Las Vegas to visit Haitians resettled there from Miami. Several knew me from my church in Miami, Notre Dame d'Haiti. When I asked them if they go to Catholic church for Mass, they told me there was no Catholic church in Las Ve- gas. In fact, there was a Catholic parish only a few blocks from where they lived. They passed it every day to and from work. To them it was just anotheewhite church. To add insult to injury, it was Catholic Charities which had the federal contract to resettle them. Catholic Charities helped them find housing and secure employ- ment, but it was the Baptists that showed up Sunday morning to take them to church. At the turn of the century, economic stagnation and the violence of the racist Jim Crow system uprooted thousands of Southern blacks who streamed northward to the big cities seeking jobs and better lives. The store-front churches and small sects sprung up wherever these poor uneducated blacks settled. In this way, these uprooted African-Americans sought to recreate the lost world of the rural South with its intimacy and strong family ties. The store-front church gave them, with its tambourines and singing, a place to belong in the large impersonal city. Though society denied them dignity because of accidents of birth, color or class, inside the church they were some- body. In the same way today, evangelical Christianity recreates for the Hispanic.and Haitian immigrant a lost world, a world in which they can recreate their dignity, a world in which they are somebody. The Catholic Church in America has become so secularized it blends in too well with the landscape. The reasons why Hispanics and other immigrants are "leaving" the Church and black Americans are not coming in have little to do with Catholic theology or the demands of a truly Catholic morality. With the richness of our many spiritualities, there should be room for everybody- from the peasant farmer to the university intellectual. The reasons are not theological but sociological. Racism is soundly con- demned in Catholic magisterial teachings. Respect for various cultures, the worthi- ness of every culture to enflesh the Gospel is also magisterially enshrined. Where we fall short is in praxis.., on the local level, the level of local struc- tures and institutions. We have, for example, abandoned the concept of national or ethnic parishes, only to see the Protestants successfully take it over and apply it in their outreach to the new immigrants. During the earlier immigration, the priests and nuns who accompanied the immigrants not only shared their culture and their language, in most cases they also shared their social class. For example, the Irish curate, because he was of the same social class as his immigrant pa- rishioners, could easily identify with the immigrants' struggle for political and economic justice, To be an evangelizing presence among the new immigrants requires more than learning their language or even some- thing about their culture and history. One also must learn to transcend class boundaries. This, of course, does not happen where Catholic school teachers punish children for speaking Spanish in cafeteria lines or where a bishop, despite parishioners' opposition, decides to close a historic black parish in the name of integration. This does not happen when parish structures that have evolved to serve the needs of middle-class Americans are ex- pected to also meet the spiritual and material needs of d!splaced peasants. It can happen, however, when we seek creative and imaginative solutions, solu- tions that are not paternalistic, nor, ff not in intent but in effect, elitist. It can happen when we seek to provide structures that can convey a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership to the immigrant. Special effort The Church in the U.S., if it is to be an effective presence among the various ethnic groups and social classes that make up a society, must incarnate itself within each group and class. The Catholic Church must be Haitian to the Haitians, Puerto Rican to the Puerto Ricans, and African American to the African Ameri-" cans. It must be a farm workers' church to farm workers and blue collar to the blue-collar worker. To be any less is to be less than Catholic, and is to fall in that mutual respect and esteem for our differences which make it possible for us to be a "model of harmony for all peoples: