BY MARY LOU ROSIEN
The teens we minister to come from every conceivable background and situation. No two are exactly alike and none have the same story to tell. In the document, The Joy of Adolescent Catechesis, the complex issue of diversity is described in this way, “Teenagers from diverse cultural backgrounds can fall into pressure to assimilate into the ‘dominant culture’ and lose the beauty of their heritage, or they might choose to alienate themselves from anyone outside their own culture.”
So how can those of us working in youth ministry facilitate a focus on being united by our Catholic faith, while celebrating our cultural differences?
Here are five ideas to evaluate in your youth ministry.
- Change the Language of the Conversation
Elizabeth (Muñoz) Johnston, a former Intercultural Program Specialist for the Diocese of Rochester, who currently serves as the Coordinator of Catechesis and Evangelization at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Rochester, New York, has specific insights into this issue. Her experience comes not only from her work but from her life as a Hispanic Catholic and the mother of a bi-racial child.
Elizabeth points out we often discuss the challenges of diversity, rather than the gifts or joys of diversity. She supports thinking and speaking in a new way when sharing thoughts on culture and heritage.
- Share our Stories
When we share our stories, we become vulnerable which can open conversations with other people about their journeys. Elizabeth describes one occasion she and her husband, “used their different experiences in applying to colleges to help their son understand how their looks, culture, heritage, etc. impacted normal life events and how not to assume all people have the same experiences.” She reminds us that culture is not limited to ethnicity, but also the environment we are born into or raised in. Economic status, friendship circles, hearing/deaf, blind/seeing, divorce, and even school districts play a role in the social group with which we associate ourselves.
Teaching Tip:Ask open questions in dialogue such as, “What would you want us to know about yourself or your life?”
- Celebrate our Diversity while Staying United in our Catholic Faith
We are all made in the image and likeness of God. We acknowledge this truth and the fact that we are God’s children, each one of us created with dignity. We celebrate one Catholic faith, the Universal Church, and the gift of the sacraments. With that in mind, our diversity is apparent even within the Church. Different customs, traditions and even worship is flavored by our environment, cultural and ethnic experiences. In all ways liturgically appropriate, we can enhance our faith expression by adopting differences in culture. Elizabeth compares it to an orchestra; all different instruments making up the orchestra and playing one glorious song.
Teaching Tip: Have several musicians in your youth group bring in their instruments and play a song together. Discuss how different it would sound without the______ (drums, vocals, guitar, etc.) compare that to the Church in the world.
- Strive for Diversity in Youth Leaders
The Joy of Adolescent Catechesis stresses diversity in youth leaders is “critical.” Teens benefit from having leaders that have walked in their shoes. Build leadership teams that reflects your youth population as often as is feasible.
- Involve People of Different Cultures in Planning
Look for solutions within your own community. Ask different groups to plan more effective ways to reach parishioners on a multicultural level. Parishes serving multi-ethnic groups have the best resources found within their parishioners. Look for opportunities to collaborate whenever possible.
MARY LOU ROSIEN is a Catholic author and speaker with a masters certificate in catechesis. Her experience as a catechist includes being an RCIA coordinator, Confirmation instructor, pre-Cana instructor, and assisting in youth ministry. Find her website at CatholicFamilyBootcamp.com.
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