ROCHESTER — Her father was from the Caribbean, while her mother was from Central America, so that’s why Mary E. Davidson of Queens, N.Y., terms herself a Caribbean hybrid.
Davidson also considers herself chosen. She explained that on Sept. 11, 2001, she was supposed go to a meeting a block away from Ground Zero. Instead, she decided that morning to go to Mass, and she was delayed afterwards in Queens.
“Had I not changed my route, I would have been a victim,” Davidson said. “I am here for a purpose — for whatever the Lord sends me.”
Davidson said that’s why she was attending the second national convention of Caribbean Catholics in Rochester Aug. 17-19 — she was there to discover her purpose.
Davidson’s multicultural and spiritual outlook is the type that several speakers promoted during workshops held at the event. As participants defined the struggles they as Caribbean Catholics face in adjusting to life in North America, they were given strategies to maintain spirituality while blending their native and adopted cultures.
“In recent years, immigration has increased the diversity in the United States,” said Amy Newlon, a consultant for educational development with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.
Newlon referred parishioners and Catholic schools to the bishops’ pastoral statement “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us, Unity in Diversity,” on which she based her talk. The document says Catholics are called to conversion from the anti-immigrant sentiments of the past, intercultural communion, and solidarity with migrants and refugees to protect their human dignity. It also suggests that understanding others is the first step towards being hospitable.
Newlon said roughly 600,000 to 900,000 people from throughout the world come to the United States each year, and one-third of them identify themselves as Catholic, she said.
“While they are coming from different places, people are coming here for very much the same reasons,” Newlon said, citing freedom, safety, and economic and social stability.
She asked the immigrants attending the workshop what experiences they had in their United States parishes. One said she feels the American Mass she attends is less lively than what she is used to. Two said their parishes were less conservative in beliefs than they were used to; one said she appreciated this, while the other said she did not.
Newlon said diverse parishes can clash over cultural behavior as well as such cultural concepts as time, disciplining children, an us-against-them mentality or historical rivalries between groups of people. She said notions of leadership in the United States tend to be relatively informal; she noted it’s common to call people by their first names and to nominate oneself for a committee.
She said she suggests parishioners reach out to ethnic groups by inviting them to participate, rather than assuming they will if they are interested. One participant mentioned that her parish brings many ethnic groups together for an annual parish picnic. Another mentioned that as the leadership of a music ministry became more diverse, more minority parishioners joined the ministry.
“Having some music that is representative of a culture makes people feel welcome and honored,” Newlon agreed.
Newlon suggested parishes offer English as a second language classes, advocate for immigration reform, and help refugee families with basic needs and with transportation to Mass. Another participant suggested foreign-language training for volunteers.
Speaking during a workshop on multiculturalism, Cecile Motus, the interim director of the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, said immigrants should strive to be bicultural by retaining their primary culture as they adopt features from their new culture.
“By living in the United States, we are being even more enriched and multicultural,” Motus said.
One Caribbean immigrant said in her experience, it was shocking to go from the majority to the minority in both skin color and accent. Another participant said her transition was eased because she was so happy to be reunited with her mother.
“The presence of a social network makes a difference in how you adjust from one place to another,” Motus said.
Motus suggested people join parish groups and register in their parish to ensure people are aware of their presence.
Ruth Watt, who lives in the Diocese of Brooklyn, said the workshops she attended gave her several suggestions of how to better welcome her fellow Caribbean Catholics.
“We should get to church in time enough to welcome people,” Watt said.
Speaking during a homily on Aug. 18, Msgr. Patrick Anthony, director of the Archdiocese of Castries, St. Lucia’s Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, echoed the idea that active participation is crucial.
“We have to share the gift of multiculturalism and identity,” he said.