Monday, June 8, 2009

An Immigrant Church

I recently received an e-mail copy from an Eagle River parishioner of an article entitled Newark: Immigrant Church is its history and future. As I read the article which is about the archdioces of Newark, NJ, where I spent many years of my priestly ministry I was lead to reflect on my present experience as a traveling preacher. I speak Spanish and often find myself, along with the other friars on our Ministry of the Word team, preaching missions to Hispanic congregations in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Most of the folks I meet are from Mexico and Central America, though in south Florida they are predominantly Cuban. There are a good number from South America as well. Besides the Spanish speaking peoples, with whom I am more familiar, I have met immigrants from Vietnam, the Phillipines and from various African countries.
What are we, as Catholics, to make of this contemporary immigrant experience? What can we learn from the immigrants? What challenges face us.
Since I am writing a blog entry and not an extensive article I will make some brief observations and hope that my readers might comment.
The folks I have met are mostly poor people with a deep and simple faith, even in the face of adversity, that quite frankly is humbling and inspiring for me. Simple though they are they are not naive and so are less easily scandalized by issues like abusive priests, though they are still troubled by this problem.
Their faith practice is more devotional, and in that sense more conservative. On the other hand they don't blindly accept everything that comes from leaders. They will speak up, though they are less likely to protest than we are. Many of them are illegal, undocumented. This can be a challenge for parishioners who look down on them for that, though I like to remind folks that if you are baptized you are a legal member of the Body of Christ.
Immigrants are arriving in large numbers (though less so with the slowing economy) and tend to have larger families and will shape, simply by their numbers, the future of our Church. Are we open to learning from them and welcoming them into our parishes as full members, not just as folks we allow to have Mass in their own language?
Finally, with the shortage of priests in our country, American priests are challenged to learn new languages and customs to serve them better. Also more foreign priests are being invited in to serve us here in this country. What are we to make of this?

You can check out the article to which I refer at

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