The feast of Santo Niño is celebrated at Mount Angel last year. Hosted by Filipino seminarians, the day includes a procession with a statue of the Santo Niño, Mass and a lunch of favorite Filipino fare. Hundreds of Filipinos from across the region attend the annual festival. Due to the coronavirus, the festival may not be held in 2020. (Mount Angel Seminary archives)
The feast of Santo Niño is celebrated at Mount Angel last year. Hosted by Filipino seminarians, the day includes a procession with a statue of the Santo Niño, Mass and a lunch of favorite Filipino fare. Hundreds of Filipinos from across the region attend the annual festival. Due to the coronavirus, the festival may not be held in 2020. (Mount Angel Seminary archives)
ST. BENEDICT — While the Catholic Church boasts of members from “all tribes, peoples and languages” (Rv 7:9), it can be difficult for the average Catholic to experience this universality in practice.

Unless one attends a papal audience in Rome or World Youth Day, experiencing the church as culturally diverse might be limited to reading Catholic international news or the occasional multilingual archdiocesan liturgy. For seminarians at Mount Angel, encountering the church as culturally diverse is the norm, not the exception, and the only travel required is stepping outside their rooms.

There are seven distinct cultural communities at the seminary — Koreans, Vietnamese, Pacific Islanders, Pan-Africans, Hispanics, Filipinos and Irish. The cultural groups “show us a different way of celebrating our Catholic identity,” said Deacon Junghoon (Val) Park, from the Archdiocese of Seattle and a part of the Korean community.

The communities strengthen the cultural identities of their members and invite the larger seminary community to learn about and interact with different cultures.

In pre-pandemic days, the cultural communities often achieved these goals through liturgical celebrations of special feast days. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Vietnamese New Year and Santo Niño included receptions featuring the culture’s food, music and traditions. Many of the readings and prayers of the liturgy were expressed in the community’s native language.

Edgar Pobre, from the Diocese of Honolulu and a part of the Filipino community, thinks that for those unfamiliar with another tongue, “there is beauty in the language itself.”

Laboring to host these events has been a welcome opportunity for mutual support and friendship among the cultural communities. According to Taylor Mitchell, a Pacific Islander from the Diocese of Honolulu, “there’s never been any competition between cultural groups as to who can put on the best event. It’s always all hands on deck.”

Seminarians’ experience of diversity through the cultural communities and interpersonal interactions is important for their priestly formation, said Edgar Lozan, a Hispanic seminarian from the Diocese of Sacramento, California. He believes that “being exposed to different cultures in the seminary gives you a heads up when you go into the parishes.”

“You can relate more to your parishioners and have a closer relationship with them,” he said.

The Program of Priestly Formation, the guiding document for U.S. seminaries, emphasizes that “pastoral formation must flow from and move toward an appreciation of the multifaceted reality of the church,” which “means a genuine appreciation of the diversity that marks the Catholic Church as well as the diversity that typifies this society generally.”

In a year that has been difficult concerning race relations and reconciliation, this appreciation for cultural diversity at Mount Angel takes on a new impetus.

Deacon Park is convinced that the diversity of the seminary results in greater unity among the students, and this is a message of hope the world needs to hear. “Difference is not a sign of threat but an opportunity to enrich each other by celebrating our differences,” said the deacon.