By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published May 13, 2010 | En Español
Last week an important national gathering held at Notre Dame University brought together a team of Catholic people who represent the great diversity of cultures, ethnic groups, races and regions of our Church in the United States of America. The conference was called by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and approximately a dozen bishops, including myself, took part. The papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, attended as well in an obvious expression of the Holy See’s encouragement for and interest in this topic. The face of Christ Himself was represented in this gathering—and what a glorious and beautiful face it is.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta was well represented in this group with staff from several of our ethnic ministries in attendance, along with a couple of our priests and even one of our seminarians, Desmond Drummer. Atlanta has had more than a little success in responding to the challenges of being a multicultural Church—and yet we also know that there is still much that we can learn from other dioceses and communities.
The focus of the conference was on the growing need for every local Church to consider how to serve the diverse assembly of people that is the Catholic Church in our nation. From our Catholics who are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants of the past two centuries, to the people who themselves are native to this very land, to the most recent immigrants, we Catholics are called to respond in love and with welcoming hearts to all those who make us the Church that we are.
Those in pastoral leadership were invited to listen to the aspirations, fears and heritage of each group. It was enlightening to discover that many of our problems are shared across every community: the challenge of keeping our young people within the embrace of the Church; the need for more effective catechesis and evangelization and re-evangelization of peoples who may have lost or perhaps never had a clear sense of their Catholic identity; the need for parish communities to balance the presence of multiethnic and multilingual communities.
I believe that we discovered that there is at least as much that we share as that which distinguishes us.
Because we are an archdiocese that is undergoing rapid growth and development, we sometimes are baffled at how best to attend to the pastoral needs of all of our people, so many of whom arrive in North Georgia from other places. We are blessed to have most of our parishes that are multicultural in composition. It is not uncommon for us to look around our churches on Sunday and see the faces of the world at prayer. That is a grace beyond measure.
Yet we are called to do more than merely recognize or tolerate the presence of diverse peoples in our parishes: We are to strive to create a single family of Catholic faith with these very same people. The ethnic ministries offices that began a generation ago are now called upon to work more collaboratively together—not to neglect the particular needs of the constituents that they seek to serve but to allow the entire Church to remember that our common Catholic identity is the source of our ultimate oneness in Christ.
I envision that as a diocese we will continue to have parishes that are increasingly diverse since our people continue to represent the sociological stratification of the general population. We will also continue to have some parishes that are established to serve the language and cultural needs of a particular community because the arrival and presence of new immigrants will demand that we provide them with places where they can adjust to this new home until they have acquired the skills and the experience to transition into the broader community. These two types of communities will continue to exist side by side for the foreseeable future.
What this diversity conference challenged the Church in the United States to do was develop an ongoing dialogue among these various communities and agencies so that they share the dream of always seeing the full Church as embracing each community in its uniqueness and splendor. Those at the conference spoke of a new Pentecost moment that was possible here in the United States, and certainly Atlanta has all of the necessary components to welcome and to encourage such a spiritual event and blessing.