By BISHOP ROBERT BAKER
In our reflections throughout the year 2001 on Reconciliation, we have highlighted the need for our Catholic community to extend a welcome to diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups in our community and allow the restorative power of God to build bridges of healing, reconciliation, and peace among us.
Over the past several years, we as a church have come to acknowledge and recognize the goodness of cultural diversities among us and to celebrate them.
The Holy Father invited us during the Jubilee Year — 2000 — to “Open Wide the Doors to Christ.”
This was an invitation to identify and embrace legitimate cultural diversities among us in serving the people of God and to welcome people of all cultures into our faith community.
We as church have moved beyond the “melting-pot” approach to evangelization. Finding a common language for communication among us American Catholics does not mean that we suppress legitimate expressions of cultural diversity, as has been a tendency too often in the past in our amalgamating new immigrants into our American culture and our Catholic Church in the United States. As I have moved throughout the diocese and held meetings and liturgies with various cultural groups, I have discovered a common desire on the part of these ethnic communities to share with our church their own riches in the way of ethnic piety and devotional practices. How happy I have been to learn more about the beauty of cultural faith expressions within the one body that is the Catholic Church!
On Dec. 12, I celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Guadalajara, Mexico, where our diocese is attempting to establish an interchange of understanding.
Our hopes are to receive assistance from the church in Mexico in ministering to over 90,000 Hispanic Catholics in South Carolina.
Both Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara and Bishop Xavier Navarro Rodriguez of San Juan de Los Lagos Diocese heard my plea for assistance in ministering to Hispanic Catholics in South Carolina, where Spanish-speaking priests are greatly needed.
We are already fortunate to have the wonderful help of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Blessed Sacrament, who were great hosts for myself and our vicar for Hispanic Ministries, Father ‘Rick LaBrecque, when we visited Guadalajara. These sisters have offered to host priests, religious, and seminarians from the Diocese of Charleston who may wish to deepen their understanding of the language and culture of the Mexican people. Their motherhouse has guest rooms and is close to a language school, making their home a hospitable one for people like ourselves, desiring to better our Spanish-language communication skills.
Diversities in culture should not be regarded as a hurdle or a hazard, but rather as a challenge to broaden our ability to communicate with people who do not share our language and culture.
I always remember the observation made by one of my seminary professors that we are “worth another person, for every language we know.”
How true that statement is!
And while we celebrate the richness of these diversities that characterize our church, we realize also the need to experience ourselves as one body, reconciled in Christ.
It is that reconciled and united body that Christ wishes to present to his Father at the end of time.
We are challenged during this month of December to put on the mind and heart of Christ, striving for union with God through reconciliation.
“For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh … that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Jesus, the Son of God, is the means chosen by God the Father to be the instrument of reconciliation for the world.
Drawing near to him, in the midst of our diversities, we experience not disharmony and dismay and warfare, but reconciliation and peace.
We draw near to Jesus through the church, which is Jesus’ instrument of reconciliation for the world, with its sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In a special way during this holy season of Advent we have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to experience from God the healing and peace we need to bring healing and peace to a terrorized and war-torn world.
We thank our Holy Father for setting a tone for reconciliation as he calls together in a prayer service for peace, in January in Assisi, Italy, leaders of Christian and non-Christian religions.
In that service he will invite all those gathered to experience the depth and breadth of union of mind and heart with God and in so doing experience a depth and breadth of union with one another.
At this great event the papacy, which is the principle instrument of Jesus Christ for unity within his church, will be seen as an instrument of unity for people of all faiths.
May the Lord Jesus, the divine promoter of reconciliation and peace, work mightily through our Holy Father and all who allow their lives to become instruments of reconciliation, harmony, and peace in an increasingly divided world.
May he work through each of us in the Diocese of Charleston who unite our minds and hearts with God in this month of December, in this Year of Reconciliation — 2001, as we lay the foundation for sharing the Good News of reconciliation in Christ in the years of evangelization that lay before us.
The great message, which we will proclaim to others as evangelizers, will be one we have taken to heart and experienced in our own lives: “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20).