Social Justice: May we welcome all as we journey to salvation

By DeKarlos Blackmon
Columnist

In light of 2,000 years of sacred tradition and the socio-political atmosphere of people today, various cultures and traditions in our American parishes face the challenge to worship together in and as one community.
Let’s face it: the socio-political atmosphere of American society is culturally pluralistic. In my travels to dioceses and parishes around the country, I have found it increasingly difficult to define communities in terms of their styles of worship — for example, traditional, contemporary or Gospel — or in terms of their ethnic makeup. 
Broadcast, print and social media convey just how much American society has become more aware of socioeconomic and ethnic differences over the years. In view of the reality that secular society is more keenly conscious of race and culture, coupled with the fact that faith does not exist outside of culture, there is a greater need for tolerance among different peoples. The increase of people from different racial and ethnic cultures has challenged parishes, dioceses and communities not only to spread a larger, more welcoming table, but also to learn how diversity builds up the body of Christ.
A few years ago, during a keynote I gave at the Cathedral of St. Paul in the Diocese of Birmingham, I spoke of Catholic action and apostolic work. When discussing the contemporary issue of immigration reform, I reminded those present of the need to be ever mindful of the implications of discrimination toward anyone among us. Acknowledging the stain and sin of institutional and national racism, we must be ever mindful of our role in welcoming “the stranger.” We have a responsibility to accept, embrace and welcome those who may not look like us because this is what Christ would do. May we never forget that we are all sanctified through God’s grace.
Jesuit Father Alan Deck, former executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity, reminds us that in order “for people to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is both an embrace and a critique of culture, they need to be aware of their own culture.” Embracing the cultures of varying people, in light of our own cultures, we can revitalize our church, which can greatly strengthen the effectiveness of the Gospel. 
When visiting Santa Teresa Parish in Bryan last October for its annual Jamaica, experiencing the enthusiasm and vitality of that parish community, it was quite evident to me of the need for each of us to bring forward the giftedness of all God’s people to add vibrancy to what we know today as church. This community epitomizes the call to mirror the hospitality offered by God through Jesus to draw all people unto himself. My visit with the Hispanic parishioners of this parish expressed to me what it means to welcome the stranger. As a “young” black man who grew up in south Alabama, I can tell you emphatically that I felt at home at Santa Teresa Parish as a result of their warm hospitality. A reflection and an extension of God’s own hospitality, our practice of hospitality must be a sharing of the love of the triune life with others. 
Social beings, functioning through God’s grace, we are only truly united through our diversity. It is by finding unity in our diversity that we are able to truly understand the nature of the church today in all cultures. For it is in understanding our own culture, and in welcoming others’ cultural values that we are able to enter into an objective attitude of considering authentically the context of another’s journey toward salvation. 
Sharing a common belief that God is present in the ordinary aspects of our lives, may we see our shared cultural influences, and our encounters with one another as a means to transform our church and our society. May we remember that we are indeed companions on the journey.