Inculturing the Gospel in a multicultural Church

June 14, 2016

Current data estimates that Hispanic Catholics make up about 40 percent of Catholics in the United States. In our own Archdiocese, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics as of 2010 was a staggering 69 percent and projected to rise to 78.5 percent by the year 2030.

The Hispanic presence in the life of the Church in the United States is not a new phenomenon, as Dr. Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, narrates in the landmark study Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes: 
“The oldest Catholic parish under the flag of the United States of America is Hispanic. This is true whether one looks at the first church erected in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1523, or the oldest Catholic mission established in 1566 in St. Augustine, Florida... the Hispanic parish, which came first for American Catholicism, is often viewed as a new creation. History shows that Hispanic Catholics have always been present, even before the United States was formed as a nation.” 

These statistics reflect the reality that we live in a multicultural Church. In my own parish, Mass is celebrated in three languages every Sunday — English, Vietnamese and Spanish — and probably not far in the future, in Bantu as well. All the faithful, especially those of us involved in ministry, need to be better equipped to respond to this reality. 

One resource that has been developed at the national level is the document Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers. It was produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. The document contains five Principles for Achieving Ecclesial Integration and Inclusion, and is worth our study and reflection. 
The principles are:
1. Articulate a vision of ministry based on ecclesial integration and inclusion;
2. Foster the inculturation of the Gospel in all cultures;
3. Plan with the people, not for the people;
4. Broaden your understanding of minority groups, program and structures, and cast a bigger net; and
5. Empower people from different cultures and ethnicities into leadership positions.

Implementing these principles will help us as we work alongside, and come to encounter people of all ethnicities and cultures. This encounter is modeled after our Lord Jesus Christ first coming to us in the Incarnation, the first and the basis of all enculturation. 

As Pope Francis reminds us, “... properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the People of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony.”

Juan Carlos Moreno is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.