‘We have nothing to fear from diversity’

by | Jan 19, 2013 | Justice and Peace

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski during the annual Migration Mass attended by all the cultural groups in the archdiocese, celebrated on Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 at St. Mary Cathedral.

The theme of today’s Migration Day Mass is “We are strangers no longer: Our journey of hope continues.” This theme recalls the historic pastoral letter issued jointly by both the bishops of the United States and Mexico 10 years ago. (With some holy pride let me say that I helped write that document in 2003 when I was chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Migration Committee.)The reasons we wrote that pastoral letter are as cogent today as they were then. In that letter, as pastors of the Church, we pledged to help newcomers integrate in ways that are respectful, culturally sensitive and responsive to social needs – and responsive to the ongoing need for a comprehensive, and compassionate, immigration reform.Today’s feast of the Three Kings reminds us that Jesus came not for just one nation, one race, one people. He came as savior for all. Today Jesus is revealed to the nations in those Magi who came to offer him gifts and adore him. As a Catholic Church – a universal Church in which no man or women is a stranger but rather a brother or sister in Christ — may we welcome the newcomer in our midst, recognizing that they too bring gifts. Our Church – and our society – is enriched by the diversity of these gifts.

‘To be a good Catholic here or anywhere else, you don’t have to change your culture, you don’t have to change your traditions, you don’t have to change your language — you just have to change your hearts.’ — Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Jesus, God Incarnate, was a Jew in every sense of the word, since he was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel. Like Jesus, the Church must make present the mystery of the incarnation through her enculturation within the various cultures in which she is present. Like St. Paul, the Church in preaching the good news of salvation must strive to be all things to all men. The integration of the newcomer into the local Church does not mean that he must surrender what makes him unique at the door but that his unique gifts be accepted and honored. For, he does come bearing many gifts.
You do bring many gifts. You are already a force for the renewal of the Church in America. Your presence among us can be the antidote to the crisis of faith experienced by too many American-born Catholics. Through your faith, through your commitment to family life, through your openness to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, through your popular piety: you are bringing to the Catholic Church in America a new and welcomed vitality. To cite just one example of the vitality that immigrants contribute to our Catholic life, let me remind you that in May, when three new priests will be ordained to the service of the Church in Miami, only one of them would have been born here in the United States and his parents are themselves immigrants.Ask any child: What is the Church? He or she would most likely answer: the Church is God’s house. If the Church is the Father’s house, then all who are God’s children should feel at home in their Father’s house – and the best way to make someone feel at home is to speak their mother’s tongue. We have in this archdiocese people who come from literally every continent of our globe, except Antarctica. Mass is celebrated each Sunday in, I believe, 13 languages. This diversity is for us Catholics a sign of the universality of the Church.
The word, Catholic, comes from the Greek, Katolikos, and means universal. The Gospel of Jesus announces that salvation is universal, that it is catholic: he sent us to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples. And if salvation is catholic, then the Church founded by Jesus on the Rock of Peter must necessarily be Catholic – catholic not only because of her acceptance of all the teachings of Christ; but also catholic in her people.The Gospel is not foreign to any culture, race or people – for the Gospel can make its home in every culture, race, and people and because of that, every race, language and people are called to become children of God the Father through baptism. Our unity is based not on common origins, common language, common culture – our unity is based on a common faith, a common baptism, a common Lord who calls all of humanity to the glory of heaven through his passion, death and resurrection.Today, we celebrate the diversity of our archdiocese – which is beautifully on display here today by representatives of the various ethnic and immigrant groups active in this local Church.

Diversity does not cause division in the Body of Christ, it enriches that Body which is the Church – only sin can divide us. We should fear sin; we have nothing to fear from diversity. To be a good Catholic here or anywhere else, you don’t have to change your culture, you don’t have to change your traditions, you don’t have to change your language — you just have to change your hearts. As Catholics, we must welcome the stranger to our assembly, breaking the bread of life with him who, in Christ, is no longer a stranger but a brother, a sister. We must see Christ in the migrant – for Christ himself was perhaps the primordial migrant: for the Son of God migrated from heaven to live among us.

Seeing Christ in the stranger, in the newcomer, in the migrant will give us the courage and the strength to recommit ourselves to work for immigration reform in this New Year. Hopefully, our political leaders can read the demographic tea leaves after November’s election. Immigration reform was certainly a key issue for Hispanic and Asian voters – and it is also for a majority of Americans.

In our pastoral letter of 10 years ago, “Strangers no longer: together on the journey of hope,” the bishops of the United States and Mexico outlined principles of Catholic social teaching that can help offer a solution that serves both the immigrant and our respective national interests. As Catholics we must continue to engage ourselves in that necessary conversation about immigration. We must work that there will be not just some changes but rather changes that are just.

The Church’s celebration of National Migration Week should help us all to “live brotherly love to the full without making any kind of distinction and without discrimination in the conviction that anyone who needs us and whom we can help is our neighbor.” Whether we are native-born or immigrant, in Christ “we are strangers no longer; our journey of hope continues.”


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