A Reflection on "Many Face's in God's House"
by Zani Pacanza
Editor's Note: "Many Face's in God's House" is an article that is part of the assigned reading for this course. It is written by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, Jaime Phelps, and Peter Phan.
Inculturation. If there is one thing that stood out to me as the main point of the article "Many Faces in God's House," this is the beauty and complexity of "inculturation." This means that the Catholic Church here in America is composed of different races and ethnicity. The majority of the Church's population is still native-born Americans. However, people from other nations have migrated here and brought with them the gifts of their culture and tradition.
In past years, this country has seen an influx of people coming from different ethnic groups: 1) Hispanics who come from Latin America (e.g. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina); 2) Africans coming from such countries as Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, aand Ghana; and 3) Asians (e.g. Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiians, and Samoans). All these have made the Church in the United States very diverse and rich in terms of varied cultures, beliefs, and identities.
The article gave very concrete and clear characteristics of the three ethnic groups. For the Hispanics, Fr. Elizondo enumerated five main traits: home-centeredness, love for festivities, sense of devotion, visual-orientedness, and avant-garde attitude. For the African-Americans, Dr. Jaime Phelps listed seven values: love of learning, deep spirituality, quest for self-governance, service-oriented, a sense of commitment, race pride and development of enterprise. Lastly, Rev. Peter Phan gave 10 Asian characteristics. According to him, Asians are: institutional, passive, conservative, individualistic in piety, vocation-oriented, devout, festive, spiritual and compassionate.
I must agree that not all traits listed are positive. Of course, different cultures would carry both positive and negative characteristics. However, what is striking to me is the fact that these ethnic groups feel the warm welcome of the American Catholic Church. The United States opened its arms to people from other places. They made a home for themselves here and somehow they felt they belong. Dr. Phelps said in the article "To be human is to belong to the whole community."
I myself am a foreigner here in the U.S. I come from the Philippines and I am here now to pursue priesthood and eventually serve the Archdiocese of Portland for the rest of my life. In my personal experience, I'm glad to say I felt the welcoming attitude of native-born Americans. Here in the seminary and the whole of Oregon, the dominant race in terms of number would still be Caucasians. However, I never felt a sense of discrimination from them.
On the other hand, they have been very friendly and warm. I remember the first time I rode the train to commute to Portland. A 50-year-old Caucasian man greeted me and asked me where I came from. I told him that I'm from the Philippines and he smiled at me. He made a friendly conversation with me and made me feel welcome. When I go to the malls, supermarkets, parks or even the streets, people smile at me and greet me.
When I came to the seminary, I was both excited and anxious. Everything was new to me and I was not sure of how to behave. I noticed that Americans are individualistic in the sense that they manage to go about living their daily lives on their own. I find it good in the sense that they are self-reliant but I also felt sad because they would prefer privacy most of the time and not hang-out with others. I wasn't used to his because Filipinos are very sociable and we like to gather often.
Surprisingly though, I never felt unwelcomed. Whenever I see a brother seminarian, a priest, a faculty member, or an employee, they always smile at me and ask me how I'm doing. This is the reason why although I'm far from my family, I feel quite welcome here. I have this sense that yes, we are different in race and ethnicity, but we belong to One Church, one community of believers. We all worship, love, and serve the same God.
Last semester we had a great welcome dinner here at the seminary. All the bishops and vocation directors visited so all seminarians ate with them. I, a Filipino, was assigned at a table beside Deacon Joseph Nguyen, a Vietnamese; Emmanuel Perez, a Mexican; and Philip Okwama and Blaise Osuji, Africans. We had talked a lot about our personal backgrounds, the country where we came from and our stories before we got here to the U.S.
Some of us were born rich, some of us started out with nothing. Some of us came from well-to-do families, some had to struggle from scratch. But one thing is common: we all had to strive hard and fight a lot of battles to be here in the seminary, and in the U.S. at that, in a faraway land where everything seems beautiful and hazy at the same time.
As I see it, in America, you can be who you are. No one will force you or coerce you into doing something you do not want to. You are free to choose the path of life you want, but you are also free to leave it if you feel that it's not for you. Here in the seminary where I am right now, people respect who you are. And so here you see different people from varied walks of life - the conservatives, the independent spirits, the thinkers, the talkers, the doers, the young, the not-so-young, the "normal" and those who are "beyond normal." And just like in any other community, not everything goes well for everyone. Because we are different in terms of personalities and cultures, our preferences and viewpoints differ from time to time. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: people respect whoever you are. People respect your background, your views, and your person.
We had a very engaging conversation that night and I didn't notice the time passing until finally, it was time to leave. But just before we called it a night, I looked around the whole dining hall. I see mostly white folks. This is still America after all. But at a few tables, I could see people who belong to other race and culture. I would see Vietnamese, Latinos, Africans, a few Samoans, and yes, Filipinos. Yet, it doesn't seem to matter. Here, we are one community, we are all brothers.
Jesus in his time always welcomed people from other race and ethnic backgrounds. In the Gospels of Matthew chapter 8 and Luke chapter 7, a Roman centurion approached him and begged for his servant to be healed. He knows that Jesus is a Jew, and being a Roman, he is "not worthy to receive" Jesus into his house. Still, he came to Jesus.
In the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, a Canaanite woman who came from Phoenicia knelt before Jesus and cried for her possessed daughter to be exorcised. In John's Gospel chapter 4, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman fetching water at at well. Samaritans were considered as undesirable and untouchable by the Jews at that time.
All these people are considered "foreigners" by the Jews, Jesus' very own tribe. This means they have different background and origin. Thus, they belong to another group. Yet all of them were welcomed, touched, and healed by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus himself sees no skin color, ethnicity, or race.
In chapter 10 of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, he speaks that the Church's salvation is open for all: "There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord for all and richly blesses all who call to Him." In chapter 2 of his Letter to the Ephesians, he reiterates this message by saying, "You are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God's people and members of the family of God." Clearly, God's desire is to embrace believers of other culture and race because we all adhere to the One True Lord of all, the Holy Triune God.
I was moved by the beautiful truth of inculturation: people from different parts of the world coming together to build the Church and strengthen its community. Like what the article stated: "The more we can respect each other's differences as gifts to the Church, and become welcoming parishes, the more fully we will be truly Catholic, universal people." I have always believed that there can be unity in diversity. It really doesn't matter if we came from different origins. What really matters is that we welcome and love one another as Christ loves us. Together, we form the One Body of the Church. It all boils down to our faith. God does not care if we have dark skin or curly hair or narrow eyes. The beautiful truth is . . . He looks at the bottom of our heart.