Bishops adopt ‘pastoral response’ for Asian, Pacific Island Catholics

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By Dennis Sadowski

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNS) — A new
document focused on guiding the American church in addressing the pastoral
needs of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics was approved by the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops during their annual spring assembly.

Adopted 187-2 with two abstentions, “Encountering Christ in
Harmony” is described as a “pastoral response” meant to provide
support and to offer ideas for ministry to the nation’s nearly 3 million Asian and Pacific Island
Catholics.

Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake
City, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, told the assembly a day before the vote that the document addresses the
fastest growing minority community in the United States church and includes.

“Asian and Pacific
Islanders are ready for pastoral engagement in the church’s mission of
evangelization,” he said.

“Our
approval of this document is indicative of an essential pastoral outreach to
the mission of the church in the United States. It’s a response to the call of Pope
Francis to go to the peripheries to proclaim the Gospel,” he added.

The document has been in the works for more than two years. It follows a
report by a team of social scientists based on a nationwide questionnaire and
online survey that asked the Asian and Pacific Island community about their
pastoral needs and concerns.

It
also serves as a follow-up to the USCCB’s 2001 pastoral statement “Asian
and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith,” which outlined the cultural,
social and ethnic diversity in the Asian and Pacific Island communities and at
the same time recognized and celebrated the gifts and values common to the
communities.

“The
goal of this response is to make Asian and Pacific Island Catholics feel at
home, both in the church and in the United States, while being able to reserve
the richness of the spiritual and cultural background that they bring as
contributing members to the body of Christ,” the document said.

The
Asian and Pacific Island community is the fastest growing in the United States,
according to document.

One
of every five Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. is Catholic. Filipinos
comprise the largest segment of the community followed by Vietnamese, Chinese
and Koreans.

By
design, the document does not address members of the Eastern Catholic churches
except for the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics with roots in India.

Scalabrinian
Sister Mryna Tordillo, assistant director of the Secretariat of Cultural
Diversity in the Church, told Catholic News Service that “Encountering
Christ in Harmony” addresses four central concerns that surfaced in the
responses: identity, generations, leadership and culture of encounter and
dialogue.

The
document is the product of collaboration between the bishops’ Committee on
Cultural Diversity in the Church and the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific
Island Affairs.

Originally
it was thought that “Encounter Christ in Harmony” would be a formal
pastoral plan for ministry, but that as work continued, those involved decided
to issue it as a pastoral response instead to guide dioceses and parishes in
ministry to Asians and Pacific Islanders, Sister Myrna explained.

“The
hope is that this document will assist dioceses, pastoral leaders, and other
Catholic entities and Asian and Pacific Island Catholics in the pastoral care
of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics wherever they are, and continue to
welcome and integrate them,” Sister Myrna said.

The
71-page document offers suggestions for action at the national, diocesan and
parish levels.

“We
the Catholic bishops of the United States, offer this pastoral response to
assist diocesan and parish leaders and all the faithful in welcoming and
integrating our Asian and Pacific Island brothers and sisters as they strive to
live a faith-filled life in the Catholic Church,” the document said in its
introduction.

It
acknowledged that the communities continue to confront “racial
discrimination, stereotyping and the clash of values with mainstream United
States culture.”

Citing
the call of Pope Francis to encounter Christ in one another, the document said
“the cultural diversity of a community, therefore, is necessarily an
integral factor in the encounter with the Gospel.”

The
document explained that harmony is a “very common theme in Asian and
Pacific Island cultures, and therefore it makes sense that in the encounter
with the Gospel, the Holy Spirit would transform this jewel of Asian and Pacific
Island cultures and make it a blessing to the church.”

Being
Catholic is part of being Asian and Pacific Islander and it becomes important
when ministering within these communities to “recognize how religion and
culture are so intimately intertwined,” the document said.

It
also noted the challenges confronting Asians and Pacific Islanders, among them
racism. It cited the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 and the internment of
Japanese Americans during World War II as examples of racist actions. Because
of these incidents, it said, for many Asian and Pacific Islanders, “the
reality of being linguistically or physically different from the larger U.S.
population is a constant reminder of their marginalized status.”

It
encourages the church at all levels to “include and invite” Asian and
Pacific Islanders who may be geographically or socially isolated into ministry
and church leadership. It also calls for active encouragement of religious
vocations.

Suggestions
for outreach include establishing resource centers, recognizing “local
gifts.” It encourages Asian and Pacific Islanders to seek opportunities to teach native languages and customs, share
music at liturgies, decorate worship spaces or pastoral centers with native
textiles and fabric and raise funds for national and international Catholic
organizations that benefit the communities.

“Encountering
Christ in Harmony” also acknowledges the importance of Marian devotions
within the communities and urged the incorporation of Asian and Pacific Island traditional
celebrations at parishes and within diocese.

Noting
that family life is central to the communities, the pastoral response urges
intergenerational dialogue to help the communities work through challenges
posed by interfaith and intercultural marriages. It also calls for celebrating
liturgies “with an ear to the youth,” supporting young adult Catholic
communities and planning ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural
gatherings.

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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