June 11, 2014
The Committee on Cultural Diversity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has published a “handbook” to assist pastors and their teams in achieving ecclesial integration among the various cultural groups within a parish.
The project began with an initial research stage that included 20 parishes from across the country that showed the ability and the commitment to bring parishioners of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds into one community of faith. St. Joseph’s Church in Amarillo was one of the 20 parishes selected. I admit that I never dreamed that one day our parish would be included as a “best practice” on the national level.
Since my arrival at St. Joseph’s, I have talked about unity among the different entities on our parish campus. It was this and the more than 100 one-on-one meetings I conducted with parish leaders that led us through a planning process with Parish Assemblies and the writing of a Mission Statement for the parish.
That statement begins with this line: “We are a family united in our Catholic faith that welcomes all God’s Children.” As a reminder of this commitment to unity as a family, the parish leaders engraved the words “Unity in Christ” on a stone that was touched by all the parishioners as a sign of their commitment to this Unity.
This was a prophetic statement—within a few months after this process was completed, the first Sudanese Catholics entered the doors of the Church. A short time later, we became aware of the presence of the Bosnian community, a few from the Philippines, some Irish families and eventually some Spanish-speaking Hispanics coming to Mass. Since St. Joseph’s was “mission driven,” it was expected that they would welcome in an intentional way all those that were now becoming an integral part of the parish community of faith.
Going through the consultation process for preparing this guide of Best Practices for Shared Parishes, the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church recognized St. Joseph’s from among the 20 parishes consulted as a good example of successful efforts towards reaching a high level of “ecclesial integration.” The committee identified nine developmental indicators or movements that assist in measuring the levels of ecclesial integration of shared parishes.
In general, there are three “giant steps” a parish needs to take for inclusion, with each giant step having three smaller steps within. The first three steps are all about welcoming and giving all people a place to feel and call their home. This sense of welcoming that began in the initial steps leads to a strong sense of belonging in the next three steps. Making a commitment to Stewardship and Communion marks the final three steps of the process. It is such a blessing to know that the committee found evidence of pastoral responses in all nine steps of the process of Ecclesial Integration of St. Joseph’s Church, and I hope that what we have learned may be of service to other shared parishes.
Father Hector J. Madrigal was ordained to the priesthood on May 23, 1987. He has served as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Amarillo, since 2007.