|September 21, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 16 • Oakland, CA|
Parish diversity reflects the changing nature
of U.S. society
WASHINGTON — American parishes are not so monolithic anymore.
It's an indication of the ever-changing face of the U.S. church.
While many parishes have gone through growing pains as new ways of doing things or ministries are adopted to help the newcomers feel at home, in the end parishioners largely have come to appreciate the diversity in worship, prayers and music.
The full spectrum of the Catholic community has become more evident with the migration of Christians from the Middle East. The profiles of once largely unknown Melkites and Maronites, among others, have become more prominent as they take their place in various neighborhoods and the workplace.
Dioceses, better recognizing a need to reach out to once marginalized Catholics, now encourage parishes to develop ministries to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. While such ministries remain few, they have proven to be successful in helping people who long have felt abandoned by the church to feel welcomed and full participants in parish life.
The Church of the Sacred Heart in South Plainfield, New Jersey, has become one Catholic community known for its outreach to LGBT Catholics.
A second community — those of Filipino descent — have found a home at Sacred Heart as well.
Numbering more than 100, the Filipinos have immersed themselves in parish life and have welcomed parishioners to events that celebrate the joys and traditions of their culture.
From special liturgies in the days before Christmas to an annual dinner and dance to raise funds for a shrine in the Philippines, the Filipino-American Association of Sacred Heart has given parishioners the chance to appreciate cultural differences while recognizing the faith they share.
Elsewhere, cultural activities are important to the life of Catholic communities.
At Our Lady of Redemption, a Melkite parish in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan, active parishioners worry about the threat assimilation poses to their Easternrite heritage and their Arabic identity and traditions. More Melkites hail from Lebanon than elsewhere in the Middle East.
The drift away from their roots is already being felt, according to Lebanon-born Father Michael Cheble, pastor. "A lot of our parishioners, they don't come, they go with Latin (rite churches), because it is closer. They put the kid in the (Roman Catholic) school, they get more and more inclined to go to the American church: 'We already support the school,'" he said.
The phenomenon is not new. "When I was a child, everything here was totally Arabic. And my mother was the devout member. She came every Sunday," said Sue Elek. "But I was more comfortable in the American church, because it was down the street, all the kids in the neighborhood were there, and so I would have to say I went there more than here when I was a young kid."
At St. Ann Parish, a 9,000-household parish in the Dallas suburb of Coppell, Texas, about 30 percent of registered parishioners are Hispanics, and the trends are shifting their way
St. Ann has seven weekend Masses at its 1,300-capacity church. All are pretty full, but some are more crowded than others. The 2 p.m. Spanish Mass — another Mass in Spanish is at 7 p.m. — is near overflowing, with latecomers watching the Mass on a closed-circuit feed, and 140 children being led out of the church early in the Mass for the children's Liturgy of the Word — more by far than any other Mass. After the liturgy, a vendor in the church parking lot sells ice cream and other frozen sweet treats from a pushcart.
The drive of 10-15 minutes to go to a Mass in her native tongue is important to Marjorie Gomez of Lewisville, Texas, in the neighboring Diocese of Fort Worth. "In Lewisville, we used to have Mass in Spanish back in '86, then the priest died, so the Mass in Spanish ended," she said.
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