Faith Alive

Catholic News Service

  • Image Credit: CNS photo/Chaz Muth


    Catholics need to work together to form parish communities where every person, regardless of race, ethnicity or culture, has a place at the eucharistic table.

    With countless parishes in the United States seeing a growing number of immigrants, many ministers are unsure of what the best ways to integrate the old and new parishioners are.

    How can the church incorporate black spirituality and other gifts in the conduct of its evangelizing mission?


    - - -


    Parish ministry in a multicultural church: Where are we?

    By Brett C. Hoover

    Catholic News Service

    In Dallas, a speaker at a Catholic ministry conference asks the assembled crowd how many people attend parishes with Mass in more than one language. Almost the entire room raises their hands. In the early 21st century, this is a snapshot of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

    U.S. Catholicism has always included substantial cultural diversity, but more than a half century ago, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described Sunday morning as the most segregated hour of the week, Catholic parishes also operated as separate (but unequal) communities.

    By the 1980s, however, in the so-called "gateway cities" where immigrants began their journey in the United States, many Catholics had begun to worship in parishes with multiple cultural groups, often known as "shared parishes." By the 1990s, as new immigrants from Latin American and Asia settled across the nation, such parishes proliferated everywhere.

    According to a 2014 study of Catholic parishes with Hispanic ministry across the United States, 43 percent of parishioners in parishes with Hispanic ministry are actually Anglo Catholics. In places like Los Angeles and Miami, up to three-fourths of parishes in a diocese hold Mass in more than one language; in Midwestern and Southern dioceses, often one-fifth to one-half of parishes do.

    After decades of cultural, ethnic and racial groups sharing parishes, we might ask how things are going.

    On the one hand, the number of ministries for underserved groups and the number of Catholic parishes serving multicultural congregations has steadily increased. On the other hand, research shows that most of the nation's parishes still primarily serve white and English-speaking Catholics; a smaller percentage do the "multicultural heavy lifting."

    On the one hand, for many U.S. Catholics, journeying alongside other cultural groups has begun to feel normal. On the other hand, many nonimmigrant Catholics complain vociferously about the signs of cultural diversity in their midst, about Masses in Spanish or Vietnamese, about Day of the Dead "ofrendas" or the smell of unfamiliar food in the parish kitchen.

    Political polarization and noisier forms of opposition to the presence of undocumented immigrants (most of whom are Catholic) has exacerbated these tendencies in our time. Sensitive to such divisions, church authorities sometimes downplay the overwhelming reality of demographic change, so much so that many Catholics have unrealistic ideas about the size or influence of groups other than their own.

    Even where parishes have embraced the diversity of their communities, parishioners routinely avoid one another. In one parish, parishioners would park on the street just to avoid negotiating the parking lot between the English and Spanish Masses. Eventually, however, groups must negotiate the details of parish life -- sharing meeting rooms, planning multicultural liturgies, even navigating the parking lot between Masses.

    Societal tensions and inequalities intrude on these negotiations. People come to church carrying hurt from discrimination. They assume that difficulties, for example, in securing a job or a favorable home loan will translate into difficulties in obtaining meeting space for their ministries.

    Recent immigrants often feel intimidated and powerless trying to negotiate parish life with longtime residents. Aging ethnic or racial communities, including many white Catholics, feel outnumbered and therefore aggrieved, leading them to hold on to privileges within their parishes.

    Even so, not a small number of communities have found relative success in sharing parish life. Among those who do, there appear to be four factors that make a difference.

    First, such parishes learn to balance the need for "safe space" for the different groups with opportunities to experience parish life together. They do not insist on quick assimilation (which is not possible anyway). Parishioners regularly pray and minister according to their own language and culture, but they also work together selling tamales or hamburgers at the parish festival.

    Second, successful shared parishes work to be fair and just in the relationships between communities. In one parish, a white Knight of Columbus was the one who noted that the Christmas decorations, as beautiful as they were, were arranged by an all-Anglo committee according to Euro-American Christmas traditions; that had to change.

    Third, successful shared parishes make room for people's grief over demographic and other changes, but they do not resist change.

    Finally, research on shared parishes shows that the vision and authority of the parish's pastor makes a real difference. In one parish, for instance, the pastor worked hard to confuse people as to which group he favored. He never missed an opportunity to talk about the parish as a community of communities, and he (or his staff) would intervene when a group tried to dominate or needed more attention.

    While the pastor's role matters, research suggests that Catholics should be wary of placing too much on pastors and their authority to adjudicate multicultural tensions. Many priests are already overburdened, and Pope Francis reminds us that all the baptized have a responsibility for parish life.

    Especially in these more contentious times, Catholics need to work together to form parish communities where every person, regardless of race, ethnicity or culture, has a place at the eucharistic table.

    (Brett C. Hoover teaches pastoral theology and directs the graduate program in theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is the author of "The Shared Parish: Latinos, Anglos, and the Future of U.S. Catholicism.")


    - - -


    Best practices in Hispanic ministry

    By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick

    Catholic News Service

    With countless parishes in the United States seeing a growing number of immigrants, many ministers are unsure of what the best ways to integrate the old and new parishioners are. Patti Gutierrez has served in Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, for the past 13 years, and provides insight into best practices for continuing and developing Hispanic ministry.

    Her first tip is patience with the process. "The stages of ecclesial integration was a really comforting thing to learn about, because for most of us we want that integration to happen, well, yesterday," Gutierrez said.

    "The material from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' workshop, Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers, describes the natural stages of integration. It just takes time and we should focus on what needs to happen in the stages we are in now and not jump ahead to the next stage."

    Gutierrez emphasized the difference of integration over assimilation, meaning two cultures become more connected without losing the distinctions in either. "We can come together and be enriched by each other and respect the other's way of looking at the world," she said.

    Looking at one's own cultural worldview is an important aspect of coming together. "Often, we don't really know we are doing anything specific, it's just how we were raised. For example, I tend to be very direct and short and to the point. My family is from the Northeast and that's how it is. The key to understanding the Hispanic culture is much more communal," she said.

    In Hispanic culture, she explained, there is much more time spent greeting people and asking how they are. She advises, "Always start with relationships -- meet people in their homes, get to know their family, learn their popular devotions and find ways to support them, find some customs from home they can also practice here, such as posadas and processions."

    She shared how the practice of starting with relationships led her to understand some of the barriers that kept people from getting involved in the parish. The ministers saw a low level of attendance for children's sacramental preparation and religious education classes.

    Through getting to know the families, they discovered that this was due to lack of transportation. The families had one car and many of the fathers worked a second or third shift. Some parishes moved the sacramental preparation to just before Spanish Mass on Sundays, while others found rides for the children.

    While programs have their place, Gutierrez said that it is important not to get make them the focus. "I got in the trap of activities and looking at the numbers. If we're nice and busy, but people's lives aren't changing, that's not enough. It's important to help people encounter Jesus because he's the one that's going to change people's lives."

    To this end, one practice of her small-town parish is to keep the doors open all day and all night, for people to be able to find quiet time with the Lord, no matter what shift they work or how chaotic their house is.

    Gutierrez offers advice for ministers. "I would encourage all ministers to make the time to stay connected to God, to have support in their ministry, to set healthy boundaries and limits, take the time for personal growth and have a sense of balance," she said. Otherwise, they will either leave ministry or no longer be life-giving in their ministry.

    "I used to feel that the Gospel call to serve the poor meant to give of myself as much as I possibly could," she said, especially when the needs of immigrants can be overwhelming. "But not taking care of myself spiritually, physically and emotionally was not truly loving."

    Instead, she advises, "Recognize what you do best, and what brings you life and find ways to eliminate, automate or delegate as much as of everything else as you can."

    (Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance journalist. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' program, Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers, at


    - - -


    Come, Holy Spirit!: Black spirituality and the Catholic Church

    By Kathleen Dorsey Bellow

    Catholic News Service

    From the first Pentecost until now, the Holy Spirit has guided the body of Christ in its mission to evangelize, blessing it with diverse charisms geared toward bringing all creation into full communion with the triune God.

    All God's people share equally in this legacy; cultural and ethnic groups over time have brought their particular giftedness to the Christian mandate to make disciples of all nations, teaching as Christ did.

    Quite invisible in the historical and theological record of the Catholic Church however, are disciples of African descent. The lack of identifiable African or black presence in the standard church history reflects a bias that diminishes the contributions of some while exaggerating the importance of others.

    Systemic blindness to the contributions of black Christians deprives the church of its authentic history and discounts black agency. For the Holy Spirit has richly endowed black people for service to the body of Christ.

    African scholars suggest that, notwithstanding the long history, cultural complexity and size of the continent, "God is" represents a foundational and core belief across most African societies. Despite the interferences of colonialism and modern-day influences, reliance on a pre-eminent God remains deeply rooted in the cultures of black people on the continent and throughout the African diaspora.

    Traditional African spirituality sees community as God's great creation plan that upholds the sanctity of life; family and kinship; the interdependence of God, the individual and the community; and the role of the ancestors -- to name but a few guiding principles that persist in a variety of black cultural institutions and form the basis of a sturdy moral compass by which human behavior is to be critiqued.

    In the 1984 "What We have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States," the movement of the Holy Spirit in African-Americans is likewise characterized as communitarian, contemplative, joyful and holistic, encouraging God's beloved in their ongoing struggle for liberation and conversion to holiness.

    There is a reason that the spiritual gifts of God's black people do not mirror those of other cultural groups. The particularity is attributable to African heritage -- at once resplendent, sorrowful, exquisite and horrible, like that of any other human group.

    In even this briefest discussion of black spirituality, one discerns that a unique genius and godliness has heartened black humanity through centuries of brutal injustices -- from the horrific Atlantic slave trade to the violent situations featured in today's headlines that demand the existence of Black Lives Matter movements.

    The same black spirituality that sustains the people through everyday life -- the national movements, besieged inner-city parishes, neighborhood initiatives, struggling families, successful professionals unfairly hassled for "living while black" -- is also available wholesale to the Catholic Church.

    In ecclesial settings where unity is valued over uniformity, black Catholic spirituality has been fruitful in areas of evangelization, pastoral ministry, social justice, Christian initiation as well as community-building initiatives that respond to the particular needs of the black faithful and others seeking God.

    Given the hidden, yet provocative, history of black Catholics in the United States, it seems that it will take a supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit to bring black culture into earnest dialogue with the Catholic faith such that the church can actually incorporate black spirituality and other gifts in the conduct of its evangelizing mission while bringing to bear the moral authority of the Gospels to challenge and uplift the lives of black members of the body of Christ.

    (Kathleen Dorsey Bellow earned the doctor of ministry degree in 2005 from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She is adjunct professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and serves the church in the areas of liturgy, culture and faith, and pastoral ministry.)


    - - -


    A national survey of seminarians scheduled for ordination to the priesthood provided insights into the race/ethnicity and cultural diversity of the soon-to-be ordained men.

    The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported that of the 430 potential ordinands, 334 men responded to the survey, including both diocesan and religious ordinands.

    Sixty-five percent of respondents identified as Caucasian/European American/white; 20 percent identified as Hispanic/Latino; 11 percent identified as Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian; 2 percent identified as African/American-American/black; and 2 percent identified as other (mixed).

    The report noted that "the proportion of Hispanic/Latino among dioces(an) ordinands is twice that among religious ordinands (23 percent compared to 10 percent)" while "Asians constitute a higher proportion of ordinands in religious institutes than among diocesan ordinands (18 percent compared to 8 percent)."

    Thirty percent of ordinands were born outside of the United States, with Mexico (6 percent), Vietnam (5 percent), Colombia (3 percent), the Philippines (2 percent) and the Dominican Republic (2 percent) as the most common countries of origin.

    The survey revealed that on average, foreign-born ordinands moved to the United States 12 years ago, and they came at the age of 23.

    To read the other major findings of the survey, visit


    - - -

    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

About Faith Alive
Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

Top of page