This summer, the world witnessed two enormously positive global events. Both the Olympics in Rio and World Youth Day in Krakow projected hugely significant signals to the world.
Both events were full of energy, joy and hope. While the bad news focuses on violence, division, war, disease, destruction and despair, the Olympics and World Youth Day showed the world a vision of humanity that could come together in peace, joy, sportsmanship, forgiveness, unity and true brotherhood.
Sadly, the world’s media mostly ignored the huge crowds of young people from around the world who gathered in Krakow. Nevertheless, their witness was even stronger than the powerful message of the Olympics for they expressed not only brotherhood, peace and forgiveness, but the young people at Krakow also reminded the world of the the power of spiritual longing within the human heart.
That force for good, like the energy of the Olympics, was greater than ethnic, racial, historical and national rivalries.
Human beings long for “the brotherhood of all mankind” where the whole world exists together in diversity and unity. In the midst of this longing, one of the strongest and most beautiful Catholic messages is that this same unity and brotherhood already exist.
It is not only displayed on a global level every three years at World Youth Day. For Catholics the global exists in the local. The same unity that transcends age, educational or socioeconomic status, ethnic and racial backgrounds can be seen not only on the world stage, but in your local Catholic parish.
American Catholicism used to be typified by “cultural Catholicism.” In the Northern cities you would invariably find separate parishes populated by different ethnic groups. St Patrick’s for the Irish, St Anthony of Padua for the Italians, St. Stanislaus for the Poles, St Boniface for the Germans and so forth.
Not anymore. America’s melting pot has been slow cooking the Catholics, and most American parishes are now much more likely to display a healthy and positive diversity.
To be sure, there are still tensions between different racial groups, but in an America which is increasingly divided, a dynamic Catholic parish can be a genuine example of people from disparate backgrounds being united by a common faith that transcends divisions.
Unity and brotherhood is not achieved simply by community organizers with expensive plans to break down barriers and bring people together. It is not achieved by forced redistribution of wealth or mandatory sensitivity sessions in which everyone comes together to listen to one another.
These worthy attempts might help, but real unity is achieved when people come together to share a faith that is older, greater and more beautiful than their individual ethnicities, traditions and perspectives.
This was brought home to me when reading a Facebook post by one of my parishioners. Vincent is a father of five girls, a leader in the parish and a vibrant and joyful Catholic. He recently observed,
“Over the last few months, I’ve been struck at just how “catholic” (universal) our little church-in-the-hood really is. On any given Sunday (and sometimes daily mass, for that matter), you’ll likely see families from five different continents representing some 15-20 different countries.
“There are Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Scottish, German, Poles, Brits, Irish, Palestinian, Canadian, Mexican, folks from a variety of Central and South American countries, and even a Chief of a Native American tribe.
“We have recently homeless folks, newly released ex prisoners and recovering addicts alongside self-made multi-millionaires, top flight executives and folks with ‘old money.’
“There are cradle-Catholics and ‘revert’ Catholics alongside former Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Anglicans, Jews, and atheists.
“Our priest was educated at Bob Jones and Oxford Universities, and has written umpteen books. We have a parish secretary with a Masters from Duke Divinity School, a Director of Faith Formation with a Masters in Theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, a choir director born in Ireland who converted to the faith, and three deacons—a Vietnam vet, a retired business executive and a former Lutheran pastor with over twenty years’ pastoral experience and a doctorate in pastoral counseling. He happens to be good friends with our Youth Minister who is a former Assembly of God member, Gulf War vet and truck driver.
“The one thing we all have in common is that we’re all at various stages of our faith journey, that we’re all sinners who know we need Christ, and that we’ve found our home in the bosom of Mother Church.
“And now, through what I can only describe as a miracle, we’re building a beautiful, Romanesque church in the poorest section in Greenville, while opening up a satellite office for Catholic Charities to minister to the variety of needs people have in this community.”
“I love being Catholic!”