By Carmen F. Aguinaco
It was when she attended a Catholic High School in a middle class neighborhood that Emilia, a Hispanic young woman from a modest family met with discrimination for the first time in her life. Being different from the predominantly Anglo student body made her uncomfortable and a little threatened; she did not feel accepted by her peers.
The reaction of mistrust before what is unknown and different is very common, almost instinctive. Perhaps in the parish you attend or the neighborhood where you live most people come from the same background, but when you leave that niche, you are bound to find differences: at college, at work, everywhere in this society you will be meeting people with different backgrounds, races, and sometimes even languages. The expressions, food, music, sense of family, traditions, could be very different from yours.
And that, of course, is true of the larger Catholic community. The variety could cause the same fear, mistrust, and confusion that Emilia felt in her school. And yet, as Armando Cervantes, of the Office of Youth Ministry of the Diocese of Orange County, California says, “When we go in a little deeper we discover that we all are passionate about the same things: justice, peace, education and dignity for our people and our families.” If we could unite around those things, rather than separate because of our fears, we would be able to join forces for the good. And we would walk truly as Catholics, as the Body of Christ.
Last year, the Catholic bishops of the United States convoked a large gathering for the various ethnic “families” within the church, for a couple of days of dialogue and discovery of common interests, concerns and challenges facing the different communities. The main discovery is that most groups can find common ground in what affects them, but particularly, in a common faith. In the fiesta held on the last day, each group was dancing with their own steps, but the music was common to all. And that was the best image of the reality of unity in diversity.
As Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily in Washington DC in 2008: “Two hundred years later, the church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishments of past generations in bringing together widely different immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to spread the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The church in the United States is now called to look at the future, firmly grounded on the faith passed on by previous generations and ready to meet new challenges—challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears—with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
It might not be an easy journey, but meeting each other in our own stories, in the shared experience and wisdom can give us pleasant surprises, as we realize our deep unity.
Have you ever felt discrimination? Have you ever felt a rejection toward those who are different? Do you know people of other cultures and traditions? What have you learned from them? Do you think God calls you to live in community with people of different cultures and customs?