“…they all gather and come to You” (Isaiah 60:4)

January 15, 2013

We have recently celebrated the beautiful liturgical season of Christmas and are now in the short Ordinary Time and soon our prayers will turn to Lent when we are marked with ashes and challenged to turn away from sin and follow the Gospel. In reflecting back over this season we are reminded that Christ came for all. He traversed old boundaries and divisions and all exclusions fell away. The second reading of Epiphany from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians tells us that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that “he saved us all through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit …so that we may …become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)

This month we honored national Migration Week, commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Pastoral Letter on Migration of the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, Strangers No Longer. In this document the bishops say, “We call on the local church to help newcomers in ways that are respectful, that celebrate their cultures, and that are responsive to their social needs, leading to a mutual enrichment of the local church.” (No.42) In our parishes and families we are challenged to create a culture and practice of hospitality that will enable ongoing conversion of hearts and minds so that “in welcoming the stranger we are welcoming Christ.” (Mt 25:35)

The USCCB document, “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers,” tells us that “one cannot adequately preach, teach, or form persons in the Catholic faith without attending to the ways in which the Catholic faith and identity become embodied in culture… the new evangelization… hinges on the acquisition of competencies that advance both the proclamation of the Gospel and the intercultural dialogue leading to the Christian conversion of individuals and entire cultures.” (Intro. ix) We are richly blessed in this Archdiocese to have the presence of so many cultures with Masses being offered each week in over 14 languages.

The overall proposal of invitation and welcome as being integral to the new evangelization has been a challenge in every parish in which I have ministered over the past 25 years. How do we re-propose the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those in our pews, to those who are missing, and to those who have not yet heard the Good News proclaimed unless we can make all feel welcome at the banquet, nurtured and spiritually fed? How can we give examples to our children that diversity enriches us in many ways? How do we reconcile the Gospel message to “welcome the stranger” when we have placed a justified fear of strangers, of those who are different than us, in the minds and hearts of our young people? How do we re-propose a Gospel of peace and love in our own American culture which is made up of so many different cultures of origin? These will be some of the big challenges of the new evangelization. 

In their preliminary work to begin writing “Building Intercultural Competencies,” the USCCB team invited the participants to listen to each other’s stories. In this very simple art of story telling was found the key to begin the delicate process of intercultural encounter. Let us begin to welcome others by providing opportunities for them to share their story because, in hearing their story and in sharing our story, we are strangers no longer. †

Julie Blevins is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.