Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Experiencing different languages and cultures prepares us for unity

Published: April 1, 2023

By Kelli Nugent
St. Edward Church, Texarkana

At the great celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe this past December, I recalled that our mother Mary is declared the patroness of the Americas and patroness of the unborn.

I took note of the fact that, of the few Anglos present at our parish celebration, I was the only one of our entire parish attending who did not have a family connection — or was the pastor. This miraculous apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to humble Juan Diego was the locus for the conversion of nine million people in Mexico to the Catholic faith, and it holds a special place in the heart of Mexicans and should in ours.

As the individual who oversees faith formation in English and Spanish languages at the parish, having only rudimentary Spanish-language skills, I have become not only familiar with but friends with many in our Spanish-speaking community.

The truth is that we are all children of God, members of the same family through our baptism.

However, I reflect on my own behavior those first Sundays of being on the parish staff and being present at our Spanish-language faith formation (catecismo). My first reaction was to hide in the office, but I knew that was not what I should be doing.

I was called to be present to this community. Summoning some courage and a smile while acknowledging that it may be uncomfortable, I began to be present in the hallways before classes began and upon their dismissal.

This choice ultimately led to me beginning to learn names of catechists, students and families, being welcomed, overcoming my discomfort and forming relationships. Frequently heard from parishioners are comments and questions reflecting the desire for how we, the various races and cultures present, “come together” as one parish.

The truth is that we are all children of God, members of the same family through our baptism. Unfortunately, the lived experience can be quite different from this truth. Pondering the experience of Mass at St. Peter’s in the Vatican (whether on TV or in person) being celebrated in multiple languages, our mother the Church shows many races, tongues and cultures present for the celebration.

Because in our parish Masses we hear Latin and Greek, and occasionally Aramaic, let us not murmur but be open when a bilingual or multilingual Mass is celebrated that reflects the diversity of our own parish. A question we can ask ourselves is, how often do I choose to put myself in a situation outside of my comfort zone in an effort to bring about the unity we seek?

This is a road that runs in both directions. Choose to attend the parish gatherings or celebrations hosted by other ethnic groups in your parish.

When you do see individuals or families of another race present at events you are attending, intentionally greet and warmly welcome them. Learn their names and share yours. Take the time beforehand to learn a few basic phrases of greeting and responses of the cultures present in your parish.

This isn’t too difficult with the help of Youtube or a language app on a smartphone. If we each do this, we will bring about the unity that we seek as God’s family.

Understanding Our Church