Office of Cultural Diversity seeks to accompany, and better serve, archdiocese’s diverse family of faith
Nov. 29, 2017
An office of the Archdiocese of Washington established in 2015, the same year that Pope Francis visited the nation’s capital, reflects a goal often stated by the pontiff, said Javier Bustamante, who has served as executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Cultural Diversity & Outreach since it began that fall.
“(He) talks about the idea of accompaniment, to walk together in faith – that’s the experience we want to have,” Bustamante said.
That experience will be demonstrated in a tangible way on Dec. 9, as the office sponsors the archdiocese’s annual “Walk with Mary” celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, beginning at noon with a procession from the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington that ends at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with a rosary at 1:30 p.m., followed by a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at 2:30 p.m.
That celebration is not just for Spanish-speaking Catholics, but for all Catholics of the archdiocese, because Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas, said Bustamante, who says the procession and Mass offers Catholics from many different backgrounds the opportunity to walk and then pray together, united in faith, with Mary leading people to Jesus.
“With her, we can find harmony even with existing differences in language, tradition and practices. She weaves them all together and produces something new, where we can see all our faces reflected together,” he said, noting that the rosary will be prayed in seven different languages.
Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, the archdiocese’s moderator of ethnic ministries who will be the homilist at the Mass, said, “It’s important to see how we can be one faith and one Church, although we are different.”
In the opening of his recent pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, Cardinal Wuerl noted how “the sight from the sanctuary of many a church in our archdiocese offers a glimpse of the face of the world.” In that letter, the cardinal also noted, “In Christ, we live in the same Spirit, we share the same new life and are members of one spiritual body.”
Cardinal Wuerl also noted in the pastoral that, “In a particular way, the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach provides resources and serves a significant role in our efforts to draw together all of the faithful of this Church in order that we might rejoice in the ethnic and cultural heritage of each of our sisters and brothers.”
Mass is celebrated in 23 different languages in the archdiocese’s 139 parishes and nine missions, including American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, French-Creole, German, Italian, Korean, Latin, Nigerian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog (for people from the Philippines) and in Vietnamese. Forty sites – including parishes, the National Shrine and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land – offer Masses in Spanish, serving the archdiocese’s estimated 230,000 Hispanic Catholics. The archdiocese’s more than 620,000 Catholics also include an estimated 66,000 African American, African and Caribbean Catholics, and 34,000 Catholics from Asia.
“The Archdiocese of Washington is blessed to have such a diversity of Catholic cultures as part of the local Church,” said Susan Timoney, the archdiocese’s secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns.
She noted that the Office of Cultural Diversity & Outreach was started following the recommendation of a task force of priests who examined how to better serve the archdiocese’s diverse cultural groups, while continuing to provide outreach to communities that had been served by the archdiocese’s former Office of Black Catholics and Office of Hispanic Pastoral Affairs.
Bustamante, a 35-year-old native of Peru, grew up in Southern California and has a master’s degree in Latin American studies from Georgetown University. He earlier served in parish youth ministry in California and coordinated Spanish-language religious education at a parish in Virginia, before leading the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey and later working with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
Describing his approach to his work, Bustamante said, “Everyone is welcome at the Lord’s table. I really feel committed to that.”
The office’s staff includes Sandra Coles-Bell, who serves as its program director, and Claudia Bartolini, its coordinator of resource development.
Coles-Bell, who compared the archdiocese’s diversity to a mosaic, tapestry or quilt, said an important aspect of the office’s work is to dialogue with Catholics of all the archdiocese’s different cultures and backgrounds.
“It’s an opportunity to talk and to learn and to grow together,” said Coles-Bell, who is African-American and has been a longtime resident of the archdiocese, where her family has deep Catholic roots. “…We all are one Church, and we all need each other,” she said.
The archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity & Outreach sponsors the annual Mass honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and activities celebrating November as Black Catholic History Month.
Timoney noted that the office’s goals include working with parishes and archdiocesan offices to respond to diverse ethnic pastoral needs and concerns and to foster evangelization from a cultural perspective and the full participation of the multicultural community in the blueprint for the archdiocese’s future outreach identified in the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod.
For more than a year, the office has coordinated archdiocesan participation in the Encuentro process of discerning how the Catholic Church can better respond to the needs of Hispanic Catholics, that will result in best practices being shared with local parishes, and with area Catholics joining regional and national Encuentro gatherings in 2018. Key priorities identified in the archdiocesan Encuentro consultation included supporting families, accompanying youth, advocating for immigrants and promoting efforts to share the faith.
The archdiocesan office also works with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in planning the annual Asian and Pacific Island Catholics Marian Pilgrimage to the National Shrine held each May, and during National Migration Week in January, the office encourages local parishes to reflect on the challenges faced by immigrants. In 2016, the office co-hosted a Black Catholic Convocation in Washington, along with the Josephites.
In recent months, the office has also advocated on behalf of young undocumented immigrants who can study and work in the United States under the DACA program that faces an uncertain future. Bustamante said the office has also held listening sessions with local Filipino Catholics, and it is working to establish community partnerships to help Hispanic families whose children are at risk of gang involvement.
The office’s executive director noted that an archdiocesan Intercultural Conference is being planned for April 21, 2018 at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, to bring different ethnic and cultural communities together to discuss the challenges and opportunities they are facing and how they can collaborate with each other.
Coles-Bell said she hopes that the office’s efforts will help Catholics in the archdiocese embrace “our diversity and sense of community under the umbrella of one God and one faith.”
Bustamante emphasized that the archdiocesan office’s work is not just about planning events. In his travels to parishes across the archdiocese – which he said are now all multicultural –he’s witnessed the “richness of faith” in communities that have been here for generations, and also in newcomers, and has felt blessed to hear their hopes and dreams for the future.
“For us in the office, it’s an honor to walk with them,” he said.
Bustamante said it all comes back to accompaniment, helping people encounter Jesus as they encounter and get to know one another, “so by the time we get to the (Lord’s) table, we know we are brothers and sisters to each other.”
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