HENRIETTA — The face of the Catholic Church in this country is changing rapidly. Are we willing to change with it?
That daunting question was posed frequently by Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck at the Gathering of the Ministerium. He served as keynoter for the event, which took place May 5 at the Doubletree Hotel for approximately 400 people in various leadership positions across the Rochester Diocese.
Father Deck directs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. During his presentation he observed that Catholics who settled in this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s were chiefly European, but are now coming from a wider geographic range — Africa, Asia and particularly Latin America — and bringing a host of cultural traditions with them. In fact, he said, one-third of the seminarians in this country are born outside the United States, and that percentage is rising.
“We have a big job ahead of us,” Father Deck said in regard to effectively evangelizing all members of these ethnic groups.
That reflection hit home with Alene Goodman, director of faith formation for All Saints Parish in Corning/Painted Post. She said her area of the Southern Tier is not very ethnically diverse, but that change is not far off.
“It’s very important for us to see it’s coming. The influx is just starting,” Goodman said.
Meanwhile, Cathy Wunder said she was impressed by Father Deck’s emphasis on the importance of loving the people you teach regardless of the group’s cultural background.
“I think that is really true. I’m glad he said that — to love what you’re talking about, but also who you’re talking to about it,” said Wunder, the director of sacramental preparation at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County.
Father Deck added that evangelization in general can be enhanced if more people are willing to serve in ministry. He said that despite the rise of permanent deacons and lay ecclesial ministers — in the Rochester Diocese as well as other dioceses across the United States — there is still a void.
“We need to have an array of ministers, foot soldiers of every kind,” he said, adding that this will alter the way in which a priest’s role has traditionally been viewed: “This requires a change of attitude, doesn’t it?”
Another attitude adjustment Father Deck would like to see is how Catholics in this country promote their faith. He used the term “evangelical Catholics” to describe “people who are willing to talk about who the Lord is in their lives,” but said far too many American Catholics stop short of this ideal.
“They say, ‘Oh no, I don’t go there; that’s something for the deacon and the priest to talk about,'” Father Deck remarked, adding that it’s less threatening to discuss religious concepts than actually articulate one’s faith: “Showing feeling is always a risk-taking, isn’t it?”
Yet staying in one’s comfort zone is “not what the following of Jesus Christ is about,” Father Deck said. Along these lines, he touched upon the difference between being rooted in Catholic tradition and being stuck in it, stressing the need for evangelizers to move with the Holy Spirit lest they end up “hunkering down and becoming a bunch of turtles.”
Father Deck, citing a popular bumper sticker “It’s All About Me,” said evangelization is crucial in an American culture that too often promotes individualism. He referred to “The American Dream” as “The American Myth,” saying that “the church’s goal is not to Americanize but to Christianize. … Christ is more about solidarity, living for others.” He emphasized that evangelization also should occur through participation in social and political causes: “Religion is not a private matter.”
This marked the fifth-annual Gathering of the Ministerium, which is organized by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Participants, invited by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, are members of the local church who exercise an official ecclesial ministry. This group includes priests and deacons, as well as such lay ministers as women religious, pastoral administrators, pastoral associates, religious-education coordinators, youth ministers, hospital chaplains, campus ministers, prison chaplains, Catholic-school principals, parish volunteers with significant ministerial responsibilities and diocesan employees.