Diocese is beautiful mosaic of diversityBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
I had the recent privilege of spending a Saturday at Holy Trinity Parish, Springfield, with 33 of the religious sisters that serve in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. These women religious work in our parishes, schools, and hospitals. Most of them quietly go about their apostolates with little fanfare or recognition. Of course, they have a different motive than accolades: Their lives are at the service to the Gospel, building up the Kingdom of God through their particular charism and service. Since my arrival in the diocese this has been my second Religious Gathering.
We were privileged to have visitors from St. Louis come and speak to us about the various challenges facing immigrants in the United States. You may recall in one of my earlier columns I stated that except for Native Americans, every one of us has an immigrant background. Many can recount stories of stereotypes and prejudices based on nationality, religion, or color. My grandmother told stories of looking for employment, avoiding places with the sign in the window, “INNA” (Irish Need Not Apply). Immigrant populations of old came to the US for a variety of reasons: a potato famine, a “Kulturkampf,” religious persecution, fleeing a war, or they were simply in search of freedom or work and a better life for their children.
While the US is known as the “melting pot” where different cultures assimilate into our American culture, many people today celebrate their heritage and are proud to maintain certain aspects of their cultural traditions.
Our diocese is blessed with such diversity. Not everyone may see it, but as I go through the 39 counties and drive the 25,719 square miles that make up the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, I see firsthand the ethnic and cultural diversity of southern Missouri. Did you know that the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral is offered in Vietnamese? The joyful presence of our Vietnamese brothers and sisters is a blessing for our diocese. At Sacred Heart Parish, in Springfield, the 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday Masses are offered in Spanish. In fact, we now have 14 parishes that offer the Holy Mass in Spanish either weekly or monthly. The most current statistics show that there is a Hispanic presence in every county in the State of Missouri.
Welcoming the ‘stranger’
In southern Missouri, our clergy and religious reflect the universality of the Church! Where would we be without the richness they provide the Church in Southern Missouri?
At our February Clergy Gathering, I made note of the fact that our priests come from Ireland, Haiti, India, Africa, South America, as well as the many “home grown” vocations from our local parishes. It is the same reality with our religious sisters. Of the 33 sisters gathered on Feb. 17, nine were from outside the US, including Vietnam, Ireland, Africa, South America, Philippines, the Czech Republic, and India.
While this reflects the beautiful mosaic of our diocese, when we encounter those from other cultures we may also become aware of “latent prejudices” that have been dormant in our hearts. To quote the US Bishops document, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity,” “Racist attitudes can linger in subtle ways, even when people get to know one another in parish activities unless we vigorously educate ourselves about our neighbors, learn to appreciate their heritages, encounter their own images of us, and strive to work with them on behalf of common causes.”
Ultimately, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age,” (Pope Francis, 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2018).
When we welcome those who are different from ourselves, we welcome Christ Himself! As I write this, we’re in the heart of Holy Week, so self-reflection on my failings and weaknesses is appropriate: Am I racist or prejudiced? Do I harbor ill feelings toward those from different countries, nationalities, or races? We should never be afraid to ask those questions of ourselves and take a sincere inventory of the heart to detect even the most subtle prejudice. How welcoming are you?
Of further interest: MLK’s example means no sitting on the sidelines, Catholic bishops say