“Christ is alive, and He wants you to be alive,” Pope Francis wrote in the opening of his apostolic exhortation to young people of the world, those who minister among them and the entire people of God.
Pope Francis’ message certainly applies to all, and we have a role in helping spread that message to all.
Our churches and ministries must include and respect everyone, regardless of ability, culture, language or age. One example is highlighted in this week’s Review, the new Catholic Deaf Ministry based at St. Richard Parish in Creve Coeur. It is a church where many deaf members attend along with hearing members who respect the language and culture of the deaf community. The priest signs parts of the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday and the music, readings and homily are signed so people can be involved in their own language and culture.
In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Mass is celebrated at most parishes in English, but also at some parishes in Spanish, Latin, Vietnamese, Croatian, Polish, Portuguese, Korean, Swahili, Italian/English and Hungarian/English. A study in November 2016 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat on Cultural Diversity listed 6,332 parishes as multicultural or as serving particular groups of Catholics.
The study found widespread agreement among all sub-groups that “having people of different cultural backgrounds enriches the parish.” Few feel like an outsider in their parish, though the group most likely to do so are foreign-born Hispanic parishioners. Many agree that they have a role in the “decision-making” of their parish.
The study cited several trends, and concluded that the Catholic Church is one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the country and will become even more diverse in the future.
Similarly, the Church strives to be welcoming to people with disabilities. The brochure “We All Belong” from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, with input from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, states that the Catholic Church earnestly desires the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in the sacramental life of the Church.
The bishops, in their guidelines for the celebration of the sacraments with persons with disabilities, wrote that “All members of the Body of Christ are uniquely called by God by virtue of their Baptism. In light of this call, the Church seeks to support all in their growth in holiness and to encourage all in their vocations. Participating in, and being nourished by, the grace of the sacraments is essential to this growth.”
The CARA study cites challenges to our welcoming spirit. For example, it states that those who are descendants of previous waves of immigration from Europe appear to be the least comfortable with diversity and less willing to engage in parish life beyond attending Mass.
Parishes, schools and other ministries must adapt and prepare for a growing diversity and continue to welcome people with disabilities.
The welcome the parishioners of St. Richard have shown the Catholic Deaf Ministry is a good example. And it follows what Pope Francis proclaims: “Christ is alive, and He wants you to be alive.”