Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Ana Carnedo, Cristal Lopez, Andrea  Fennimore and Yulissa Haro review document during youth group meeting at St. Joseph Parish in Salem.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Ana Carnedo, Cristal Lopez, Andrea  Fennimore and Yulissa Haro review document during youth group meeting at St. Joseph Parish in Salem.
Catholic parishes in Oregon are moving from single cultures to what the U.S. bishops are calling “shared.” In a shared parish, people of more than one language, racial or cultural group celebrate the Eucharist and work to live out the gospel.

While the Catholic Church has been a conduit of immigrant adaptation throughout U.S. history, the nation’s bishops today are clear: the church’s mission is not to Americanize but to evangelize. The bishops say this means respecting languages and customs of discipleship. In other words, parishes need to find a way to achieve unity without enforcing uniformity.

Holy Trinity Parish in suburban Beaverton counts about 50 nationalities. Prominent are Filipinos and Vietnamese, as well as folks from Korea and India.

Even in this welcoming parish, the array of cultures poses challenges in what Deacon Brett Edmonson calls “small ways.” For example, Filipino liturgies trend elaborate and full, while Anglos prefer noble simplicity.

“There may be some tension over questions like, ‘How many rosaries do we say?’” says Edmonson.

But in basic matters, Holy Trinity achieves notable unity. Edmonson credits the high education level of parishioners, many of whom work in the nearby high-tech industry. Whatever their culture, they tend to be proficient at English. A common language speeds fellowship. Parishioners see each other at the office and so are more at ease in church.

Music and homilies, if crafted to touch everyone’s hearts, can bring all kinds of worshipers together, explains Edmonson. When it comes to culture disputes, the deacon’s final advice is: “charity and patience.”

Almost 60 of the 124 parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland have Hispanic ministry. Hispanics are the fastest growing group in Oregon Catholic parishes and around the nation.  

“You’ve got to have an openness of heart,” says Holy Cross Father Joe Corpora, a former Portland pastor who now travels the country helping Catholic schools and parishes become more welcoming to Hispanics.  

He thinks of Mexican Catholics as “God’s last-ditch effort to keep the Anglo church from becoming upper middle class, white and antiseptic.” The laugh line makes it clear that Anglos tend to be more efficient and liturgical while Latinos can be more relational and devotional. Everyone has truths to show others, Father Corpora explains.

The priest suggests that parish leaders begin by reviewing the census. Latinos will soon be a majority in U.S. parishes. Next, pastors should find a cultural mentor, someone who can answer candid questions.  

Father Corpora, longtime pastor of a Hispanic/Anglo parish in Arizona and Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland, had good results when he brought all parishioners together to tell family stories. The communities discovered that everyone, in a sense, is an immigrant. Another trick: Sunday afternoon soccer games will draw people of all cultures.

The priest urges Anglo Catholics to make sure to distinguish different Latin American nations — Mexicans and Chileans are not the same, for example. Parish staff should find out what holidays are important to growing populations and should consider building an outdoor shrine if worshipers want it. Priests with many Hispanic parishioners ought to hang an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the rectory.    

To Anglos miffed that Hispanics don’t blend quickly into Anglo culture, Father Corpora explains that many Mexicans in the U.S. assume they will someday return to the land of their birth.

“They will integrate, but they won’t assimilate,” he says. “They never will.”

A 2011 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed that 40 percent of growth in registered parishioners in the U.S. from 2005 to 2010 was among Hispanics. About a third of parishes in the western U.S. identify themselves as multicultural. That’s up from a fifth in 2000.   

The bishops prefer the term “shared parish,” emphasizing that the parish does not have some owners and some visitors.    

The goal at shared parishes is to build unity on a strong Catholic identity, says Alejandro Aguilera-Titus of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

“Something that follows from Catholic identity is a sense of belonging,” says Aguilera-Titus, a former Director of Hispanic ministries in the Archdiocese of Portland. “They feel they are not just there renting. Then that moves into a strong sense of stewardship.”

Parishes that achieve unity begin with welcome and hospitality, Aguilera-Titus explains. New arrivals, whatever their culture, ought to be recognized.

Then, successful churches advance from the Spanish Mass to add other ministries in Spanish, like religious education and adult faith formation. Each major culture in the parish ideally has its own programs, but unites with others at certain points. For example, at an adult education session, everyone can pray and eat together in multilingual form, then move to different rooms for classes.

“Avoid one-size-fits-all,” Aguilera-Titus says. “Parishes need to be ‘both-and.’”

Aguilera-Titus suggests that one community can help the other. He has heard of a parish at which, during ents watched the children. At the English retreat, Hispanic parents returned the favor.

Aguilera-Titus suggests that youth group, work on the same model — some meetings in common and some projects carried out in smaller subsets.

Parish staff, he adds, should be able to collaborate with people of different backgrounds and the pastor must have a love for the various groups in his parish. But priests and staff need not do the work alone; they should instead identify leaders in the various communities.

The Catholic Church is the nation’s most diverse organization. In developing institutions shared among cultures, the church can be a model for the country, Aguilera-Titus says.  

At Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point, Hispanic membership grew from 100 to 700 in six years. At the same time, the youth group went through a three-stage process. At first, it was all-English. When the youth minister began inviting Hispanic youths, the newcomers felt intimidated. So the parish established a group for Hispanic youths, which flourished. Once the Hispanics felt ownership, it was possible to unite the two groups.

Father Mike Walker, pastor of Shepherd of the Valley, says a key to harmony is helping parishioners see the blessing of growth and different cultural expressions of faith.

“You hope and pray your parish is wanting that,” Father Walker says. “I think people do understand that the gospel is for everyone. I feel sorry for parishes that don’t have active Hispanic and English-speaking communities. Both have a lot to bring.”

Successful multiculturalism takes effort. Father Walker at times has had to talk down parishioners who try to turn cultural differences into a political situation. He worked to make sure Hispanics got a chance to contribute to the new parish, which they did generously.   

“You just do your best,” the priest says.

Often, Catholics of different cultures unify over a common cause.

Parishioners can work side-by-side in food pantries or clothing closets.

On the first Monday of each month at St. Mary Parish in Eugene, Anglo and Hispanic parishioners join in a Stations of the Cross focusing on the victims of abortion. Confirmation classes at the parish are blended, which links all kinds of families.

“Hispanic and Anglo kids make a lot of links,” says Julie Rutledge-Sanchez, director of religious education at St. Mary’s, a community of 1,950 families that is about 30 percent Hispanic. “They know each other.”

As for adults, Rutledge-Sanchez says it takes courage.  

“It has to be a concerted ef fort to get outside your comfort zone and go out and meet people,” she explains. “You meet them where they’re at.”

Food often helps build unity. In Seaside, a Mexican chef was asked to cook dinner for an event run by the mostly-Anglo women’s group. At St. Mary’s in Eugene, Hispanic parishioners make a monthly breakfast with home recipes. People of all cultures come to eat.

“If you really want to have a community blended, get the women together cooking,” Rutledge-Sanchez says.

If food doesn’t work, sometimes a smile starts the unifying. “The Holy Spirit,” Rutledge-Sanchez says, “doesn’t know language barriers.”

St. Andrew Church in Northeast Portland has a history of inclusiveness that that has been cultivated over the years by its leadership.

In the 1970s, Father Bert Griffin encouraged parishioners to welcome African American families of the neighborhood by incorporating more Afro culture into Masses. Father Griffin is remembered for his constant refrain, “God loves each and every one of us: absolutely, unconditionally, and irrevocably.”

Today’s pastor, Msgr. Charles Lienert, carries on that tradition.

“We make a very conscious effort to welcome people who are often marginalized,” he said.

A community of Guatemalan transplants gathers at St. Andrew once a week for Mass celebrated in the Mayan language Kanjobal. All services during Holy Week, and during other special occasions, are celebrated in Spanish and English.

“We’ve really worked at not just having a church where several different congregations meet, but to build relationships between the people who come to the Spanish Mass, and Guatemalan Mass and the English Mass,” Msgr. Lienert said.  

During a capital campaign, Anglo parishioners visited the homes of Hispanic parishioners, and vice versa, to build personal relationships while fundraising for a building project.  

Bilingual members of the community serve as a bridge, and when anything happens in the parish, church leaders ask everyone to contribute and receive together, fostering a sense of ownership.

“We’ve tried to be strategic about ways the community could build relationships with each other, without losing their own charisms and their own identity,” Msgr. Lienert said.

Similarly, at Holy Redeemer Church in North Portland, all major liturgies are bilingual. The Hispanic community at this parish started with a very small group of family and friends 10 years ago, but has grown vastly.

“Our liturgies are the most important way we all interact,” said Lupe Albarran, Hispanic ministry director. The entire parish also gathers for a Fiesta de la Virgen celebration, Stations of the Cross during Lent, and a summer camping trip.

Latin is a great equalizer at St. Joseph Parish in Salem. Chant in the ancient language is included in the Mass to unify the community linguistically, instead of English dominating.

Father Todd Molinari also revamped parish leadership three years ago. He made a requirement that the biggest linguistic groups in the parish be represented — English, Spanish and Vietnamese — as well as the church’s various ministries.

“It’s like the UN security council,” Father Molinari said. “It’s sometimes unwieldy and takes more time, but it gives everyone a place at the table.”

New hires in the parish office are bilingual, and so is the parish’s new deacon.

But, sometimes, it’s simple infrastructure that brings the different language speakers of the parish together. St. Joseph, built mid-century, isn’t equipped to handle a modern congregation’s needs.

“In the evening, this place is crawling with kids and families, in every nook and cranny,” Father Molinari said.  

To function efficiently, everyone is forced to communicate and work together to ensure every group’s needs are met.