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3/1/2013 3:03:00 PM
Workshop: Diversity a blessing, not a problem
Catholic Sentinel photo
A group does traditional dance during a bilingual Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photo
A group does traditional dance during a bilingual Mass.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

According to the Vatican, about 41 percent of the world's Catholics live in Latin America. Around 24 percent reside in Europe, 15 percent in Africa, 12 percent in Asia, 7 percent in North America and 1 percent in Oceania. The upcoming consistory will convene cardinals from every corner of the globe.

Like worldwide Catholicism, the Catholic Church in Oregon is an international stew. Parishes in Oregon's Tualatin Valley, home to many Spanish speakers, are trying to help all Catholics embrace the fact as a blessing, not a predicament.  

A workshop on building intercultural competence is set for Wednesday, April 24, at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro. Parish staff and clergy will attend 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and a session for the general public is set for 6 p.m.-9 p.m.

"Our hope is that people recognize racial differences as a gift from God and not a problem to be solved," says Father David Schiferl, pastor of St. Alexander Parish in Cornelius. "It's not a problem; it's the richness of the church."

Most parishioners at St. Alexander are Spanish speakers, though there is a small English-speaking community. Some parishes in western Oregon have the reverse makeup. Many are are closely split. Almost all have a mixture of cultures including European Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans and Native Americans.   

"The idea is to see the giftedness of all the players," Father Schiferl says. "We are all going to grow through the experience."

The workshop is intended to help people of all cultures open themselves to other peoples.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus will lead the workshop. A former director of Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Portland, he is now assistant director of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. He says intercultural competence is more than tolerance, but is the ability to communicate, work and relate across cultural boundaries.  

Aguilera-Titus teaches respectful communication as a first step beyond the impasse caused by differing communication styles, divergent ways of handling conflict, dissimilar decision making and clashing leadership techniques. That calls for using words others can understand, listening for feelings, pondering before speaking and examining one's own presumptions. Communication, Aguilera-Titus says, is not about winning, but about true dialogue.

Catholics, whatever their ethnicity, ought not expect other cultural groups to assimilate into a one-size-fits all parish life, Aguilera-Titus says, explaining that allowing culturally specific groups in a parish does not create division or separation.
"Be willing to be a bridge builder rather than a gatekeeper," Aguilera-Titus says.  
There are examples of cultures working together well. In 2010, St. Alexander held a centennial that drew about 1,400 people. The day included a bilingual Mass, mixed language choirs and an international buffet. The key was this — cultures were not blended; they shared the day and retained full cultural expression.    

"People come together and get a sense that this feels good," says Father Schiferl.
Last year, when St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove held a Spanish-language Passion play, one Anglo helped. This year, 30 have signed on to lend a hand. That's because the play was filmed, word spread and people got talking across cultures.   
Heather Pariera, coordinator of faith formation for children at St. Anthony, says different cultural groups should continue to welcome others to their events.

Pariera says that for many parishioners, it's a matter of overcoming fear of the language barrier. Once they take the leap, people will appreciate and learn from what other cultures offer, she explains. Pariera observes that Hispanics have a strong sense of community and family, for example. Meanwhile, Anglos have a strong sense of stewardship.

"I think we need all the cultures to be competent," says Deacon Jesus Espinoza, who serves at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha. "We need to know how to swim in a non-Hispanic world. And the non-Hispanic world needs to know how to listen to us. It's like a house with many languages. We need to know how to communicate."

Theological underpinnings of the movement among the Tualatin Valley churches include the understanding of the church as a body composed of varied parts. That goes back to St. Paul and, of course, Jesus. Also undergirding the thought is the notion of catholicity itself. The word means "universal." Third is the notion of the church as missionary, which began with debates among the apostles over moving the church beyond Judaism to other peoples.

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