Sunday, March 9, 2003

Ethnicity and Catholicism

Monthly article on Latin Americans, Catholics and Protestants:

"The big attraction for these migrant workers is that the evangelicals offer them a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, whereas the Catholic Church more or less offers them a relationship with the Catholic Church."

Which, I might add, is not just a problem for migrant workers.

A traditionally German parish in New Jersey is now mostly Hispanic, but still offers one German-language Mass on Sundays.

From the LA Times (LRR): A parish split over ethnic matters

In short, it's a predominantly African-American Catholic parish, and they're losing their African-American pastor. The sizable minority of parishioners who are Hispanic would like a pastor who's more fluent in their language and culture than the last one was. Tensions mount.

This, of course, is not a new conflict in American Catholicism. A couple of weeks ago I read a book (linked over there on the left) called Slovaks on the Hudson which struck some people as obscure..(Ummm...pot? kettle?)

Well, I guess a book about Slovak parishes in Yonkers, New York might strike a few as narrowly-focused reading, but I guess that's why I was a history major and you weren't. Some of you, anyway.

I read books like that (and it wasn't a hard read at all - relatively short, straightforward) because studying the past is the only way I can even begin to understand the present. Looking at the difficulties of the contemporary church can lead one quite easily to despair - unless you've studied history and really come to understand that there is really nothing new under the sun.

So with ethnic parishes in the United States - it's difficult and challenging, but it's a challenge that's been confronted by the church in this country for a hundred and fifty years. There have been wicked fights over ethnic parishes, and Hispanics aren't the first to scare the institution with their threatened migrations elsewhere - the history of Eastern European Catholics in this country has been one of great tension as, at times, whole congregations have threatened to join the Orthodox unless they get a priest who can speak their own language.

And as much as the whole idea of an ethnic parish goes against our ideal of the church as universal, even at the parish level, the fact is that in this country, ethnic parishes (and their associated institutions, which included schools and lay associations) were absolutly vital in immigrants' ability to adapt to life in this country. It's a lesson, I fear, that has been lost in too many areas today - I've blogged about this before, but in our own diocese, there's serious thought being given to actually closing the two parishes that have developed into the centers for newly-arrived Hispanic immigrants both here and in South Bend. I don't know anything about the South Bend situation, but I do know that here, the parish they're thinking about closing is actually larger than the parish with which they'd merge it. Yes, the church building is in slightly worse shape, and because the people of the parish are generally poor, there's barely any collection to speak of, but it's still appalling to me that they would close and merge this parish rather than making a concerted effort to build it up as a center for ministry to these new arrivals who are coming to our town in great numbers.

I don't get it. But then, I hardly ever do, it seems..

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