This is the third of four articles that explore Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters (ECH:API), which was approved by the USCCB on June 14, 2018.
Encountering Christ in Harmony describes some of the unique aspects of Asian and Pacific Island (API) Catholics and recommends pastoral responses based upon four central concerns: Identity, Generations, Leadership, and Culture of Encounter and Dialogue.
API Catholics in the United States embody a rich and deep history of Catholicism, a synthesis of traditional Catholic practices infused with the unique cultural characteristics particular to each of the various ethnic groups that make up those identified as Asian and Pacific Islander. API Catholics are eager to share their experiences and gifts as well as receive support from the wider Catholic Church.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity. In this way,” he continues, “the Church takes up the [positive] values of different cultures and becomes the sponsa ornata monilibus suis, ‘the bride bedecked with her jewels’ (cf. Is 61:10).” (#116)
One of those jewels offered to the Church from API cultures, although not unique to them, is the high value that is placed upon leadership. API Catholics exhibit a healthy respect toward people in positions of authority, including within the Church. Since leadership is held in such high regard, leaders accept their role as a serious duty to fulfill. Respect for leaders is passed down from generation to generation, as parents are expected to teach their children early on to respect elders, leaders, and teachers. This plays a pivotal role in maintaining harmony within the family, the community, and society at large.
However, as with most ethnic communities in the Church, API Catholics acknowledge that having leaders of their own ethnic heritage would be helpful in their faith life, since such leaders possess a cultural sensitivity that other well-intentioned and well-trained leaders may not naturally command. Cultural misunderstandings and insensitivities can sometimes create a barrier between communities and their appointed leaders. Yet, like all Catholics, Asian and Pacific Islanders realize that they are called to welcome pastors of diverse ethnic backgrounds as appointed by the local bishop.
Parish catechetical leaders can support their API brothers and sisters by encouraging API laity to take on leadership roles. This could mean serving as prayer leader in a small faith community or domestic prayer gathering (e.g., praying the Rosary and other devotional practices) or organizing celebrations around liturgical feast days.
Catechetical leaders can also make efforts to encourage, pray for, and support vocations among Asian and Pacific-Islander Catholics to serve the community’s pastoral needs. Since the fostering of vocations begins at home within culturally specific communities, families could invite trusted clergy and members of religious communities for meals and other special family events. Small ecclesial communities could collaborate with vocation promoters and host events that specifically focus on the topic of vocation discernment.
Let us welcome and integrate our Asian and Pacific Island brothers and sisters into positions of leadership so that we, the Body of Christ, may indeed reflect the positive values of different cultures and become the sponsa ornata monilibus suis, “the bride bedecked with her jewels.”