Greetings of Christ's peace! It is a very exciting moment in the life of the Church in America. We are living on the threshold of the new evangelization in the midst of the obvious cultural diversity that constitutes the parishes all over our nation. The constant influx of people from different parts of the world has made America a country of immigrants and the faith communities are seen as a migrant church. Consequently, this prevailing situation presents a big challenge in the pastoral outreach of our Church to people of various races, cultures and languages.
A couple of years ago, the phenomenon of cultural diversity led the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to make a pivotal move to form the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, made up of five subcommittees: African American Affairs, Hispanic Affairs, Native American Affairs, Asian and Pacific Island Affairs and the Pastoral Care for Migrants, Refugees and Travelers. It was a clear recognition of the prevailing situation in our Church and the need of a pastoral response to carry out our mission of evangelization.
The Catholic bishops of the United States instituted the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs as part of its holistic pastoral outreach. It was a novelty but not a surprising decision. In 2001, the Bishops had already issued a Pastoral Statement, "Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith" recognizing the growing presence of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, affirming its loving concern and the conscious desire for their full participation in the life of the Church in America. It was a consequent document to a previous pastoral statement, "Welcoming Strangers Among Us: Unity in Diversity (2000)" that highlighted the Church in the United States as a church of many races and various cultures working for unity and universality in the midst of diversity.
The result was palpable. A stronger awareness grew in developing a culture of hospitality that offers a genuine and suitable welcome to all people of cultures with a special focus on Asian and Pacific Island communities as an integral part of the Church in the United States. The momentum has been sustained and so much felt as a teaching moment that now, there is a more intent effort not only in acknowledging and celebrating the contribution and rich gifts Asian and Pacific Islanders bring to the Church but also to gain better understanding and appreciation of cultural values and identity through conscious dialogue and encounter.
God's providence gives us a glimpse of the "promised land." The Bishops Conference continues to lead the faithful in its spiritual journey of forming a Church community, a beautiful mosaic that features a variety of individuals from different cultures and traditions. In particular, the Asian and Pacific Island Affairs Subcommittee has responded to the challenge and the mission of the Church in America.
We cannot but feel more excited and our hearts rejuvenated. The Subcommittee is on its penultimate phase in crafting a new document - Encountering Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters - in order to address the unceasing call of our Holy Father to build up the Body of Christ by celebrating its diversity and bringing about the full participation of cultures in the life and mission of the Church.
Pope Francis at the outset of his papacy put forward the reality and challenge to embrace immigrants and cultural diversity. He asserted that immigrants should not be ashamed of their cultural identity and should share their traditions and cultural gifts that can enrich and enliven the life of the community. After all, it is our sacred duty to welcome all people and establish one family, one community.
The intent of the forthcoming pastoral response is basic and simple. Building unity and harmony among diverse peoples necessitates understanding each other's culture and its impact in our community. A climate of cultural openness and inclusion is essential to facilitate an encounter and engagement through dialogue in order to discover the fullness of one's identity so we can eventually recognize our commonalities and embrace our differences.
I am very hopeful that the pastoral approaches this document recommends or suggests will be helpful in our evangelizing mission and in building a civilization of justice and peace. The spirit of harmony is a valuable ingredient and an effective catalyst in the process of encounter and dialogue. I pray that this leads our Church leaders, pastoral ministers and the faithful to recognize diversity and to open the mind to mutual acceptance and genuine collaboration.
Special thanks to Bishop Randy Calvo, the steering committee under the leadership of Sr. Myrna Tordillo, Fr. Linh Hoang and Fr. Ricky Manalo for their relentless efforts in completing the pastoral response document. We continue to pray that this will inspire, educate and propel everyone towards encountering Christ and one another in a spirit of unity and harmony and live as a faith family in love and peace.