Diocese brings lessons from convocation

GREENVILLE—The Office of Ethnic Ministries is formulating an action plan for next year aimed at fostering better understanding between the growing ethnic populations in the diocese.
The plan comes out of the Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation held this spring at Notre Dame University, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At that event, more than 300 church leaders — bishops, priests, other religious and laity — met to find ways to address the challenge of combining the church’s growing racial, cultural and ethnically diverse groups with what Jesuit Father Allan Deck calls the need to foster “a robust Catholic identity.”

Father Deck is the executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries based in Greenville, attended the Notre Dame convocation.

She praised the USCCB for its efforts to provide multiple resources for diversity offices at the diocesan level “so we can achieve the goals of being more welcoming and understanding cultural differences, and being the one church that we are called to be.”

Merritt said the meeting was significant in moving multicultural offices forward, adding that it was the first time in her experience where such a diverse group was brought together at one table.

The event included representatives from African-American, Asian, European, American Indian and Hispanic cultures. Participants divided up to share their unique experiences as Catholics.

Merritt served as a facilitator in a small-group discussion. She said that sometimes conversations among small groups was difficult, but overall the outcome was positive.

Her office will develop an action plan for the diocese this fall and place it on the 2011 calendar, she said. The ultimate goal is to blend the various cultures into the one church.

Although various groups are currently under one umbrella, Merritt said “there are still blacks doing this, Hispanics and Asians doing that. Everyone is generally doing their own thing.”

The challenge will come in merging cultures without sacrificing their uniqueness, she said.

“It’s all about communication and understanding. We have not had [the various ethnic groups] at the table together,” Merritt said.

She added that Catholics can read about what other Catholics are doing, “but you really don’t get it until you actually sit down and have a conversation with those people.”

Merritt said it’s easy to think that the Catholic Church is one church, but there are some hidden issues with multiculturalism and ideas of where it’s headed.

She hopes that by opening dialogue between ethnicities, people will experience what each brings to the faith.

The effort may be as simple as one group attending a celebration of another group.

“You don’t find an abundance of people coming to a black celebration, a Vietnamese celebration or an Hispanic celebration just to find out what those gifts are,” Merritt said. “We have a lot of people that are different, but we share the same faith.”

Father Deck said the USCCB effort isn’t aimed at assuring that the various ethnic groups in the Catholic Church simply get along.

“The opportunity consists in tapping into the roots of all cultures in order to invigorate the faith in ways that build on the unique spirit of Catholicism as it is embodied and lived by real people,” he said in a statement following the two-day convocation.

“Catholic identity is rooted in culture or it is not rooted at all, for faith finds its home in the symbols, stories and rituals of a people,” he said.