By Cardinal Justin Rigali

Several of the ethnic groups present in our Archdiocese celebrate their origins during the month of October and this gives us the opportunity to look at the multi-cultural nature of our local Church this week.

The unique nature of our country
We know that the United States possesses an identity which is somewhat unique among the countries of the world. We are composed not of one particular nationality or cultural group but of many different cultures from many parts of the world. The ease of communication and travel and the shifting migrations existing in other countries throughout the world are giving other places some of this identity but we are known to have possessed it from early in our history as a nation.

This particular identity has also affected the work of evangelization in our country. In fact, Catholics became numerous in the United States because of immigration. What was a tiny presence at the time of our country’s founding became the presence of millions of Catholics through immigration to our country beginning in the mid-1800s.

One of those who came to this country from another place and culture was our own St. John Neumann, one of my predecessors as Bishop of Philadelphia. Having come to this country from Bohemia, St. John had a particular sympathy for the immigrants who lived within his vast diocese. He learned several languages so that he could preach to the faithful and instruct them and hear their confessions in their own language. He is known to have undertaken long and arduous journeys to the farthest parts of the diocese in order to confer the sacrament of Confirmation on even a few immigrant children.

It is interesting to note that in the mid and late 19th century the Bishops of the United States were somewhat spanided on how best to care for the spiritual needs of millions of immigrants arriving in the United States. There were some Bishops who thought that the culture, identity and even the particular Catholic customs that the various groups brought with them from their native countries should be forgotten and completely submersed into an “Americanized Catholicism.”

We may be surprised to learn that some of these Bishops were even opposed to the erection of Catholic schools because they desired the immigrant children to be completely “Americanized” in the public schools, while their religious training would take place through religious education programs in the parishes.

As we know, this point of view did not prevail. It was acknowledged that Catholics arriving in this country had particular needs and had brought certain customs and practices with them and, in many cases, spoke a different language.

Great care was taken, especially in the large cities where immigrants tended to congregate, to help the immigrants feel at home and help them with the unique challenges and difficulties that faced them in their new country. Priests and Religious Sisters were brought from the countries of origin of the new immigrants so that these immigrants could worship and practice their faith in familiar surroundings. Settlement houses were formed in many immigrant communities where Religious Sisters taught English to the children of immigrants.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, known as the “Mother of Immigrants” for her care and zeal for their welfare, founded orphanages, hospitals and schools to care for the immigrants arriving in North and South America.

Many Bishops brought religious communities into their dioceses with the express purpose of aiding African-American, Hispanic, Portugese, Italian, German, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Slovenian, Lithuanian, Hungarian and other groups of Catholics in their dioceses.

In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
At one time, various cultural groups of Catholics tended to reside and remain in particular neighborhoods. The many national or personal parishes that were founded throughout the United States were entrusted with the care of those residing in these particular communities. More recently, we speak of “apostolates” to various groups and cultures because the concentration and stability found in the older immigrant groups is not always found in the newer cultural groups. For this reason, we reach out to serve the needs of the many cultures represented in our five-county Archdiocese by going out to them.

We have an Office and Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, an Office for Black Catholics and an Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees, which coordinates the following apostolates: African Apostolate, Apostleship of the Sea, Arab Outreach, Brazilian/Portugese Apostolate, Cambodian Apostolate, Chinese Apostolate, Filipino Apostolate, French Apostolate, Haitian Apostolate, Hungarian Apostolate, three Indian Apostolates for the various Indian Rites, Indonesian Apostolate, Irish Apostolate, Japanese Outreach, Korean Apostolate, Laotian Apostolate Pakistani Apostolate, and the Vietnamese Apostolate, which has seven centers.

The Polish, Slovak and Italian communities continue to be served in and from their personal parishes. I am so grateful to all of the priests, men and women religious and lay faithful who work in these apostolates. They help me to fulfill my mission as the Shepherd of all those in our extensive Archdiocese.

My own activity
While I am grateful to have so many to assist me in this work throughout the Archdiocese, because I could never do it all myself, I am always so pleased when I can be a part of our various cultures in a personal way. Just within these past couple of weeks I have offered a Mass celebrated in three languages; English, Spanish and Vietnamese. I have been able to celebrate Mass for the Polish community on the occasion of the Pulaski Day celebration, for the Hispanic community on the occasion of the Hispanic Heritage Mass and Mass during the Justice for Immigrants Campaign Gathering, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at Saint Joseph-in-the-Hills Retreat House in Malvern.

In visiting the various parishes throughout the Archdiocese, I am constantly in contact with the many cultures and customs that make up the Catholic life of our Archdiocese. It is always the expression of “one Lord, one faith and one baptism,” but it also partakes of the legitimately different expressions of that same faith that accompany different cultures. This seems to be yet another sign of the truth of our faith.

For two thousand years, it has become a part of vastly different cultures and has been able to feel at home in those cultures while expressing the purity of faith revealed in Jesus Christ and transmitted by His Church down through the ages. These are often my thoughts as I see these various Catholic cultures unfold before me as I go throughout our Archdiocese. I thank those entrusted with the pastoral care of these local communities of Christ’s faithful and am so grateful for the vibrancy that they add to our local Church.

8 October 2009