By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
“Encuentro 2000,” July 6-9, at the Los Angeles Convention Center was a tour-de-force celebration of the multicultural diversity of the American Church, and its great unity.
This national celebration of the Jubilee Year was hosted by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Hispanic Catholic Community, with its tradition of annual Encuentros, but this year the Hispanic Community kindly included Catholics of all cultural traditions in their celebration. We owe both the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and our Hispanic brothers and sisters a great debt of gratitude.
More than 5,000 people from the United States and Latin America attended, with more than 80 bishops present. More than 60 people attended from the Diocese of Charleston.
The celebration lived up to Bishop Gabino Zavala’s expectation and goal, that the event “help the Church become a more hospitable and welcoming family.” (Bishop Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, was chairman of the Bishop’s Subcommittee on “Encuentro 2000.”)
Certainly there will be those who find fault with the event, offering comments on what could have been in the celebration that wasn’t there and what needed improvement. While some criticisms may be justified, what must be said is that the monumental, yearlong task of planning paid off quite well. The American bishops were wise in lending support to this Jubilee event and in showing support by their presence. The Church in America needed this opportunity to take stock of its rich cultural diversity that is growing by leaps and bounds daily.
The Diocese of Charleston needs to take stock of this wonderful diversity in its own backyard as well and to celebrate it, which we will do more forcefully in our All Ministries Conference in Columbia on Oct. 9.
I was delighted to see represented at the gathering members of our Hispanic, African-American, Vietnamese, and Haitian communities, as well as a strong representation from our Anglo Community.
And I am proud that our diocese had one of the largest diocesan delegations.
One of the highlights of this gathering for me was the Service of Prayer and Reflection on Friday, July 7, on the subject of “Seeking Forgiveness, Rebuilding Community,” presided over by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.
Cardinal Law, in his homily, pointed out that when we sin, we obscure the holiness of the Church; we are not living the oneness of love that is the holiness of the Trinity. While not presuming to render judgment on individuals, as only God can, because of the bond that unites each of us to the Mystical Body, all of us bear the burden of … the faults of those who have gone before us.
“The Church,” said Cardinal Law, “should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of our brothers and sisters.
“The mutual respect and love which should characterize all our personal relations have not existed.”
The cardinal mentioned sexual abuse situations that have seared us all, as well as instances of harsh words and harsh and unjust treatment, the pain and scandal of injustice and alienation, defining ourselves narrowly by the place we are from or our cultural background. “To be Church is to be universal,” he reminded us. “The prejudices of others have too easily invaded our lives.”
The cardinal also pointed out that “the Church is more than our sins.” It contains the presence and holiness of Jesus Christ.
Personal testimonies were given, and powerful prayers seeking the restorative healing and forgiveness of Christ were uttered. Following the Lord’s Prayer the sign of peace was extended meaningfully to all in one’s proximity, acknowledging the unity we have in Christ.
In the course of the four-day celebration, a variety of cultural groups brought their expressions of faith and love for the Lord to this wonderful gathering.
In the midst of all that we experience of divisiveness in our nation and, yes, even in our Church, it was so good to see an effort at celebrating cultural diversity result in reconciliation, harmony, and unity.
In this month of July we recall that Christ calls us to take a further step in our vocation as committed Christians by praying for, appreciating, and celebrating our rich multicultural diversity that finds its unity in Christ and His Church.