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6/18/2013 9:06:00 AM
We need to continue to present opportunities for interaction
Catholic News Service
Oblate Father John Crossin talks with Humaira Basith of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago in 2012 following an open dialogue session on religious freedom and social justice at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Catholic News Service
Oblate Father John Crossin talks with Humaira Basith of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago in 2012 following an open dialogue session on religious freedom and social justice at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Liz Quirin


Peeking in the window of a classroom at a Catholic school might surprise a few folks. These days, a Catholic student wrestling with a math problem at his or her desk could be sitting next to a Muslim girl with a scarf covering her hair puzzling over the same problem.

What is not a problem is the way students of other faiths and cultures can easily be assimilated into any Catholic classroom. In many cities, Catholic schools are far and away better choices for schools where young people can grow and expand their experiences and understanding of the world around them and themselves.

We don't need "captain obvious" to tell us we are a multicultural society and certainly a multicultural church. While some parishes welcome diversity, others have come "kicking and screaming" to the multicultural table.

Why is that? I'd have to chalk it up to ignorance -- a lack of knowledge about other cultures. Consider how long it takes people to accept changes, to make adjustments to their thinking and see the way everyone benefits from diversity.

For instance, I know one parish with a strong Hispanic presence, but the English speakers didn't immediately embrace their new brothers and sisters from the south. A priest was secured to celebrate the liturgy in Spanish, and so the uneasy relationship began. Some of the old-time parishioners ventured into the church to see what was happening.

A few years passed, and people seemed to be getting comfortable with one another. The Hispanic parishioners hosted a fiesta for the whole parish after one of the Masses in Spanish, hoping to reach across the cultures and become one parish. Didn't happen. It was more than embarrassing to see the total lack of participation by the "old guard."

First, I felt bad for the Latinos. Then I realized they would hold the fiesta and enjoy each other's company no matter who showed up. When I let go of my anger at those who were absent, I really felt sorry for them. They were the ones missing out on the wonderful hospitality -- not to mention the amazing food -- that was right there in front of them if they would just take the time to look.

While things have become incrementally better at that parish, they were never in any doubt at another parish a few miles away. In that parish, the cultural sharing knows no bounds, with a committee planning events and liturgies to encourage complete parish participation.

In that parish, it works beautifully. Everyone learns from everyone else. The benefits include an expanded knowledge about another culture and a chance to participate in customs heretofore unknown. The "cultural bridge" has traffic going in both directions, making the community stronger and more faith-filled.

What's the "take away" here? No two parishes are alike, just as no two people are alike. No one can be forced to accept another person or that person's culture, but we need to continue to present opportunities for interaction, even if it seems pointless.

We all know that "nothing is impossible with God." The key seems to be opening our minds and our hearts to what God wants to do with us, letting God stretch us in ways we never dreamed, meeting and listening to people who appear, at first glance, very different from us. But when we look through the eyes of faith, we clearly see they truly are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Investing only in past prejudices and failing to take advantage of the wonderful customs and culture of others in our own parishes and schools makes us all poorer. Sharing our story with others as we listen to theirs provides rich experiences that we can use to build stronger relationships with and among others.

Letting "captain obvious" have the last word: "It's a win-win situation for everybody."

Liz Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.



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