Friday, November 6, 2009

The Bi-lingual Parish Mission

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In the pictures above you see Fr. Marty (top) preaching in Spanish at SS. Mary & Edward in Roxborough, NC. Below, Fr. John is preaching in English.

I've just returned from a busy period in my ministry--four missions in six weeks, two of them bi-lingual missions with Fr. Martin Bednar, OFM. During that time I also attended the "Encuentro" for Hispanic ministry in our province of which I wrote in my last blog entry. Several of you have asked questions about these missions, basically asking what we do and why. The "what" part is easy to answer. We arrive at the parish on Saturday in time to preach an invitational homily at all the Masses, Spanish and English. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we divide the folks into two groups according to language, the larger one meeting in the Church (and that's not always the English speaking group), and the smaller one in a chapel or hall nearby the Church. Each group hears the Word of God in their own language. Both of us speak Spanish and so we alternate between groups on each of the nights. In this way everyone gets to hear both of us. At the end of each evening we bring the groups together for a common bi-lingual activity of prayer and ritual. Our efforts have proved successful and have helped parishes to work with the tension of trying to serve the two groups.

The "why" part of the inquiries is more complex. The basic answer to "why", of course, is that there are two languages being spoken and that the needs of all must be met. We run into issues however in two areas. One is that often the English speaking feel that the Spanish speaking are taking over their parish, a parish which they and their parents and grandparents helped to build. The other is a concern that many of the Hispanics are illegal immigrants. To both of these concerns we offer a gentle, but clear and firm challenge. Our forebears did not build, at great sacrifice, an Irish or Itlaian or Polish or American parish. They built a Catholic parish and the Hispanics who come are indeed Catholic and usually very good Catholics. Also I like to tell them that while they may be illegal according to civil law they are "legal Catholics" because they are baptized and that while they are hear they have a right o have access to Mass, the Sacraments and all aspects of Church life. Although we don't give any talks on immigration reform we often point out to individuals what the Church's position is on that subject.

One final point is that it is not only a matter of language, but of culture. Again, as I pointed out in last weeks's entry the mission of the Church is not to favor any one culture but to see that the Gospel is proclaimed and lived in every culture. There is one faith, but many cultural expressions of that faith. Over the years, long before experiencing the cultures of different Spanish speaking countries, I was enriched by the ways in which my Irish grandparents expressed their faith and then discovered that people of Italian, Polish and other ethnicities had their cultural expressions as well.

A final note. The Church in our country today also has large groups of African Americans, Haitians, Philipinos and Vietnamese, just to name a few, all working to maintain their faith, in a manner compatible with their culture. For those of us who are English speaking white Americans our job is not to get them to be "just like us", but to support them in living their Catholic faith in ways that are meaningful to them. This is a challenge for all of us.

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