By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
The landscape of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will become increasingly multicultural over the next 40 years and the Church isn’t wasting time in preparing priests to better minister in this new cultural climate.
More than 400 priests participated in a series of one-day workshops titled “The Missionary Component of the Priesthood in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Catholics, the Office of Black Catholics and the Office of Migrants and Refugees.
Clergy heard from Robert Miller, the director of the archdiocesan Office for Research and Planning, who gave a demographic overview of the current and future ethnic make-up of the Archdiocese; and Father John Grimes, a Missionary of the Society of St. James the Apostle, who shared ways of promoting parish solidarity gleaned from his own experience as a missionary in Ecuador, professor and pastor. Also on the program were Father Domingo Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican priest of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, who encouraged his brother priests to understand their own cultural formation and prejudices in order to be open to other cultures and points of view; and Msgr. Francis X. Meehan, an adjunct spiritual director at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, who explored new approaches to the priestly ministry of evangelization within today’s multicultural reality.
By 2050 it is estimated that the percentage of people of Latin and Asian descent in the United States will double. Currently, 14 percent of Hispanics and 5 percent of Asians make up the total working U.S. population between the ages of 16 to 64, but in about 40 years those numbers will increase to 31 percent and 10 percent respectively. African-Americans will increase by 2 percent from 12 percent today to 14 percent in 2050.
“The challenge isn’t how many we have, but embracing the Catholicity that they bring to us,” said Father Rodriguez. “When we reflect upon the cultural aspects of people who are different from our own race and culture, we learn as much, if not more, about ourselves than we do about others.”
He recalled landing in Alabama as a young 18-year-old seminarian from Puerto Rico in an Irish community and realizing for the first time that he didn’t fit in.
“I didn’t know I was a loudmouth until my teachers started constantly telling me to lower my voice. Lower my voice? This is how I have spoken all my life. In warm climates, we are reared with open windows and doors so we have to compete with outside noise, but in cold northern climates, with closed windows, you use your ‘inside’ voice,” he said. “Adapting is always a challenge. You can only do this if you know who you are, knowing that there is no culture better than any other culture, just like there is no human being better than another.”
Father Rodriguez explained that once priests realize their own ethnocentrism – the tendency to expect other people to behave, react, or relate to life in the same way we are conditioned by our own cultural upbringing – the better equipped they will be to go beyond themselves to “making people feel comfortable.”
“Take a closer look at who is in your parish. How can you respond to everyone? The challenge pastorally is to lessen the pain – the tension,” Father Rodriguez said. “Pastorally, as you engage in the multicultural situation, know that conflict is inevitable because the founding families are still in the parish mixed in with newcomers. Don’t be scandalized or threatened that in a multicultural setting you will continue to find tension.”
He also reminded his fellow priests that the goal is the unity of the whole.
“Not that all will be alike or the same, but that all will be looking for the common good – if you put that within the context of the Gospel, that we all come to know and experience God’s love,” he said.
For Father Dennis O’Donnell, the director of Integrated Health Services at Holy Redeemer Hospital, the workshop gave a “deeper awareness of the subtle power of culture in all of our lives.”
Father Joseph Quindlen, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Buckingham Township, currently serves in a parish that isn’t ethnically spanerse but has years of experience working within the Hispanic and African American communities.
He said the workshop gave him new insights and affirmed others that he’s come to understand in his own ministry.
“We learn how to love people and that lets them know we are open to learning their culture,” he said. “We are here to minister to everyone, no matter what our own personal shortcomings are … You speak the language of love, you learn how to smile, to accept and appreciate the differences.”
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at email@example.com or (215) 965-4614.