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Home : Viewpoints : Editorials
2/19/2014 10:07:00 AM
Letting our culture be enriched by other cultures
Catholic News Service
Father Chad Hatfield chats with Shaykha Reima Yosif during the National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington. This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: What does it mean to be a tolerant Catholic?
Catholic News Service
Father Chad Hatfield chats with Shaykha Reima Yosif during the National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington. This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: What does it mean to be a tolerant Catholic?
Liz Quirin

I was rooting around in the linen closet looking for a washcloth when I found my kaffiyeh, a head covering that I wore when I was hiking in Jordan a number of years ago. I'd forgotten a hat, and the desert sun was going to send me into heatstroke mode.

I needed help to make sure it would function properly, and then I was set to explore in another country, ready to hear and maybe understand a bit about someone else's culture and religion.

Exploring ideas and religion in wide-open spaces conjures mystery, adventure, excitement, even. However, when we consider the juxtaposition of religions and cultures in crowded neighborhoods where English may be the second or third language, the picture changes. Adventure may not cover the outright hostility some people feel as they navigate the American scene.

And we're not that far removed from the violence perpetrated by segregationists in the 1960s. Some of that racial intolerance remains bubbling below the surface in some areas of this country even today.

Change the subject to religion, and many people can relate not only to a lack of tolerance but also some open hostility. Consider this: When I talk to young people in some of the less Catholic corners of our state, they ask me how to defend themselves from comments and questions about their Catholic faith.

In mostly non-Catholic regions, their customs, their rites and rituals seem at the very least unusual to others who have no idea why we use incense at a funeral, what a rosary signifies or what we're doing as we make the sign of the cross. And genuflecting? You might as well not go there. It's amazing how gestures we learned as children and perform without question seem to puzzle others, sometimes in our own schools and neighborhoods.

We, as Pope Francis has encouraged, need to evangelize, first ourselves, and then maybe our neighbors -- not in a threatening or condescending way -- so they see the importance and meaning of what we're doing.

People who have never met a Catholic or have no experience with our liturgies or our Catholic culture will have no idea how we pray, how we form communities in our parishes or why we want to be Catholic.

It's easy to live in a homogenous world where everyone is culturally and religiously the same, but if we look around, the world isn't like that, especially today's world of instant communication, our "virtual" neighborhoods.

And when we bring the world and its many different cultures and beliefs into our very personal spaces, into our neighborhoods, great things can happen. Differences can enrich us and offer us ways to grow we couldn't imagine, both culturally and spiritually.

Here's the caveat: We have to be open to the experience; we have to embrace change or, at the very least, the possibility of change, or stress levels will rise along with the potential for emotional and/or physical distress and violence.

Most people don't like what they don't understand. And we don't understand a great deal because we're not naturally cultural cross-pollinators.

Even in the old days, if parents didn't want their children listening to their conversations, they often reverted to their native language. In some households, that's how youngsters learned to speak German or Russian or Spanish or whatever the country of their parents' origin.

Over the years, we've welcomed refugees from many different countries and rejected others. Those refugees brought their customs, their culture and their religious beliefs with them.

If we have been open, they have enriched our lives and become part of the fabric of our own culture as we pass it down to our children.

While some folks would view my kaffiyeh as a "too small" checked tablecloth for summer gatherings, my children would know what it is and its origins. They won't think of terrorists carrying submachine guns but their mother climbing around the rocky desert region of Jordan.

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