Reflection from Always People 

Challenge to the Church

I see the need to challenge ourselves, the Catholic Church in Australia, because when you think about it, as a religion it is, in its composition, probably the major culturally diverse institution in the country. Therefore, the church has an obligation to ensure that its members not only accept and practise what are "our multicultural policies" in terms of citizens’ responsibilities, but the teachings of the church in being inclusive, welcoming, plural, multilingual and diverse in its own rituals and expressions of Faith. 

It demands that in new times and new contexts, the leadership is clearly articulated and expresses this publicly as a core set of values, principles and the mission of the church, in order to give the opportunity for people to actively participate in evangelisation according to their own gifts and talents.  This will bring harmony.  This will humanise society.

It will create an atmosphere of trust and increase respect for differences.   

Most importantly, the church itself will be renewed and revitalized.  It will also gain credibility in the wider society, by acting honestly and with integrity.  This seems to be lacking at present.  We see the reality of large numbers of Catholics from culturally diverse backgrounds experiencing isolation, forced to be living in ethnic enclaves, because they are not given the space and flexibility to be inserted into the mainstream church.  This is in order to share their richness in liturgy, in language, in expressions of their Faith, through rituals and devotions which are vital and which sustain the Faith of peoples in times of intolerance. 

The Catholic Church is required to ask the theologians in Australia, what has been considered in this respect?  How the priests are trained and equipped in order to be pastors to communities which are increasingly polyethnic, multilingual and diverse in culture and expressions of their Faith?  Are the religious and lay personnel who are working among Catholic Ethnic Communities and parishes with culturally diverse membership constantly updating themselves in this specific ministry?

Does the church have resources equivalent to service with justice their membership equally, as the culturally diverse membership contributes or wishes to contribute to the mission of their local Church? 

Why is it that the majority of the culturally diverse membership, including many of the second generation born in Australia, instead of sharing and participating actively in their parishes, still prefers to be involved in the minority Ethnic Catholic Communities? 

It seems to me that the church is required to seek and reflect with a high degree of honesty and integrity and ask itself: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I am sure that, not only many people from culturally and diverse backgrounds will participate actively, but also, many of those who have not been active for a period of time may become encouraged to return.  That is, if they see the efforts being made to be honest and to act with integrity, and not just to be seen to be doing the right thing.   And not just acting superficially by declaring and showing the rich cultural folklore of the composition of our church, but by increasing the openness in liturgy in order that it is enriched and diverse.  Also, in order to deepen our spirituality, by forming personnel to become cultural mediators in all ministries, services and structures of the church.  And to ensure those priests, religious and lay people, who are presently the workers with the Catholic ethnic minorities, are actively engaged as part of the mainstream membership and structures of the church.  Then, they will not find excuses, that because they are in a "special ministry", they find themselves feeling marginalised. 

The most practical thing in all this is that it may have implications inside of the structures, the resources and services.  Therefore, it will have economic implications as well.  So, unless the church, as an institution, is prepared to apply access and equity policies in the distribution of its personnel and services, then our mission will continue to be partial, not inclusive as Jesus teaches us to be.  Not welcoming as the tradition of the church tells us we need to act.  And our hospitality will continue to be conditioned to be accepted as a cultural domination to the vulnerable, the stranger, the marginalised and those who, because of race, language and diverse expressions of their Catholic Faith, are different. 

The positive result of a deep search and study into the world of the culturally and linguistically diverse membership of our Catholic people is that our membership will have more active participation and more dynamism.  The ecumenical cooperation will increase and strengthen our churches.  The interfaith dialogue will benefit, since people from culturally diverse backgrounds have the life experience of living in many countries among people of different Faiths.  This gives the opportunity to share with the church what could be helpful for us so as to have a better understanding and respect for each other as citizens of the same Australia, in order to live in peace and harmony.    

   
 
 

In other words "multiculturalism” needs to be a policy, but at the same time, a way of practising our Catholic Faith according to a set of principles that we all accept and commit to, in order to call Australia home.  It needs to de-construct the marginalisation of people who, because of their race, language, political or religious backgrounds, are forced onto the margins of our society or to build ghettos.   

This is different to the understanding that we, as the Catholic Church, build cultural communities which help people to maintain their language, history, traditions and cultural values.  And where, at the same time, these communities are encouraged to share their values so that the rest of the mainstream becomes not only culturally enriched, but dynamic, flexible, pluralistic and respectful of each other.  

This will tell the wider Australian society and the world that the local Catholic Church, as part of its mission, is making a dynamic contribution in order that Australia is a safe, peaceful, friendly and inclusive place. This will be another example of our shared common, good understanding of evangelisation to the world, in order to find true peace and harmony for all to enjoy life with respect and safety. 

  

Jose Zepeda

International Coordinator – Always People

Consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and itinerant People

August 2005 (Updated may 2006)