Teresa Rojo Tsosie’s Catholic faith is one of the most important parts of her life, but she has often felt that as a Native American Catholic, her voice wasn’t being considered or heard by the Church as a whole.
Tsosie, who works for St. Jude Catholic Church in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation in the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, finally found a place to discuss that feeling. She was one of the participants in Journeying Together, a national dialogue on diversity and faith among Catholic young adults organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.
Called Journeying Together, the program focuses on bringing together young adults from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds to discuss their experiences in the U.S. Church and begin a strategy of how to make their voices heard as the Church moves forward.
Journeying Together, organizers say, is the USCCB’s response to the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people and Pope Francis’ 2019 apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”), his reflections on the synod. The document focused on the importance of listening to and engaging young people worldwide.
The USCCB program’s core purpose is to help find ways for the voices of young adult Catholics from all cultural backgrounds to be heard.
“We started this because of the pope’s message about bringing the Gospel to all young people,” said Mar Muñoz-Visoso, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.
The yearlong program has given young adults from every major cultural group in the country the chance to gather online to discuss issues and challenges facing their communities, as well as the way their cultures influence their faith.
In a way, COVID-19 restrictions turned out to be a blessing for the Journeying Together process because what started out as a weekend gathering turned into a yearlong conversation fueled by the Zoom meeting platform that became so vital during the pandemic.
Participants met first in monthly intracultural groups, which gave the young adults from the same communities a chance to share their experiences, frustrations and challenges of combining their cultural experiences with their faith. These were followed by monthly intercultural exchanges which gave members of all of the communities a chance to learn about each other’s cultures and faith experiences.
The meetings brought together young adults and ministry leaders from every large cultural family in the country: African-Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, European Americans, Hispanic/Latino, Native Americans, and a group for migrants, refugees and communities on the move, including farm workers, those who work with carnivals and circuses, maritime workers and Irish Travelers.
Several participants in the program’s monthly online discussions said it was the first time they had been able to have such discussions with other Catholics who share their cultures, as well as people from different cultural backgrounds.
“For me, it’s been a struggle just being heard and recognized, and I think we have really started something with Journeying Together by just being able to talk freely,” she said. “I hope we don’t lose this momentum.”
A discussion earlier this summer led by Native American Catholics was fruitful, given recent news out of Canada, according to Tsosie and Maka Black Elk, a member of the Lakota Nation who works as vice principal at Red Cloud Catholic School on the Lakota Nation, in the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.
Black Elk said among other topics, the online dialogue addressed news from Canada about the mass graves of children being found near residential schools for Native children that were once run by the Catholic Church.
Black Elk said it’s a subject of ongoing discussion at the school where he works — how to reconcile the wrongs done in the past in the name of the Church with the work of spreading the Gospel going on today.
“For communities that have been historically marginalized, it’s important to recognize that the Church hasn’t always been there,” Black Elk said. “It’s OK to acknowledge that and more importantly to start taking an active role in dismantling racial injustice as a Church. I think young people are more aware of that and really ready to do that work.
Many people who took part said the opportunity to talk to their peers from a variety of communities was an eye-opening experience that exposed them to the true richness of the faith in the United States.
Dallas Carter, a theology teacher and diocesan catechist for the Diocese of Honolulu, said as a native Hawaiian, he appreciated being able to share with others how the legends and traditions of his culture can be used to compliment the messages of the Gospel.
“We have so much to learn as a Church from the different strengths of different cultures,” Carter said.
The monthly online meetings concluded in late June, and for the next year participants from around the country will meet further to process what was learned.
Participants will finally get to meet other at a live in-person event scheduled for June 23-26, 2022, in Chicago. Central to that event will be planning sessions on how to take what has been learned to the next level — namely, working on concrete ways for the Church to better engage young people from all cultures around the country.
The results of the Journeying Together process will then be published and offered to dioceses, schools, Catholic organizations and apostolic movements nationwide so they can continue the work at the grassroots level.