December 23, 2016

Office of Intercultural Ministry celebrates 20 years of creating ‘richer experience for everybody’ in local Church

During the inaugural archdiocesan Intercultural Ministry Awards Dinner on Nov. 15, 2014, the members of the Committee of Intercultural Ministry Coordinators at that time gather for a photo. They are Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, former Intercultural Ministry director, left; Myanmar/Burmese Ministry coordinator Rita Si Si Lwin; Divine Word Missionaries Father Sam Cunningham, former Hispanic Ministry coordinator; Franciscan Sister Jeannette Pruitt, former Black Catholic Ministry coordinator; former French-speaking Ministry coordinator Dabrice Bartet; former Philippine Ministry coordinator Marlon Alfonso; and Vietnamese Ministry coordinator Father Minh Duong. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

During the inaugural archdiocesan Intercultural Ministry Awards Dinner on Nov. 15, 2014, the members of the Committee of Intercultural Ministry Coordinators at that time gather for a photo. They are Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, former Intercultural Ministry director, left; Myanmar/Burmese Ministry coordinator Rita Si Si Lwin; Divine Word Missionaries Father Sam Cunningham, former Hispanic Ministry coordinator; Franciscan Sister Jeannette Pruitt, former Black Catholic Ministry coordinator; former French-speaking Ministry coordinator Dabrice Bartet; former Philippine Ministry coordinator Marlon Alfonso; and Vietnamese Ministry coordinator Father Minh Duong. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin has mentioned frequently in the last month that the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., where he will soon be installed has Mass celebrated in 22 languages each weekend.

It’s a large number, yes. But it might be a surprise to some that across central and southern Indiana, Mass is celebrated in as many five languages.

That opportunity is just one of the many accomplishments of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry, which celebrated 20 years of service this year.

The story begins in 1994. A volunteer group called Archdiocesan Black Catholics Concerned existed, as did a Hispanic apostolate operated out of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis. But there was no official archdiocesan ministry for Catholics of ethnic backgrounds.

But when St. Bridget Parish in Indianapolis—one of three predominantly black parishes in the city—was closed, then-Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein tapped Father Kenneth Taylor, then-pastor of St. Bridget and Holy Trinity parishes, to start an archdiocesan multicultural ministry.

“I think Archbishop Daniel wanted to figure out a way to be sure that the various ethnic communities were still ministered to by the archdiocese,” says Father Taylor, now pastor of St. Rita and Holy Angels parishes, both in Indianapolis.

In January of 1996, Archbishop Buechlein commissioned the archdiocese’s first Multicultural Ministry Office, with Father Taylor as director.

The office focused on addressing the spiritual needs of the Hispanic and black Catholic communities, whose needs varied in certain ways from Anglo Catholics based on cultural backgrounds and customs.

“Elsewhere in the country what was happening was the office of Hispanic Ministry and the office of Black Catholic Ministry—and if they had any Asian offices—were all being combined,” recalls Father Taylor. “People were feeling that things were being taken away.

“But here it was different because we never had [either ministry], so it was like a step forward for us.”

According to Father Taylor, the Office of Multicultural Ministry, which in 2014 became the Office of Intercultural Ministry, serves two primary purposes.

“One is to develop ministries to the various ethnic groups within the archdiocese,” he explains. “The other is for the archdiocese to have a conduit to what’s going on nationally. We are representatives on the national level through the office. … So we can take what’s happening here to the national groups, and whatever is happening nationally gets back into the archdiocese.”

In time, a ministry was developed for the Vietnamese Catholic community, which worships at St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis. They would later be combined with ministries for Burmese, Filipino and Korean Catholics under the archdiocesan Asian/Pacific Islanders Ministry.

The milestones over the last two decades are many, says Father Taylor. One was the creation of a special Mass to celebrate the Vietnamese Tet, or lunar New Year.

“One of the first times they did it, they invited Archbishop Daniel and pulled out all the stops,” recalls Father Taylor. “He said to me, ‘Celebrating Vietnamese New Year in Indianapolis—I never would have figured that would happen!’ ”

Another milestone was the institution of a Mass to celebrate the Filipino tradition known as Simbang Gabi, a nine‑day spiritual celebration leading up to Christmas.

In 2004, the first annual Mass celebrating the feast of St. Martin de Porres on Nov. 3 was held. The saint shared Hispanic and black heritage.

“The idea was to bring particularly the African-American and Hispanic communities together around St. Martin de Porres for common worship,” says Father Taylor. “It was a time when there was a lot of tension in Indianapolis between the African-American and Hispanic communities. …

“Over the years, I found out that other communities revere [St.] Martin de Porres as well, so other communities are now involved.”

Maria Pimentel-Gannon of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis has been involved with the archdiocesan office since its inception, and has served several terms as president of the ministry’s board. She helped start the annual St. Martin de Porres Mass.

“I think it has brought us closer as an archdiocese,” she says of the Mass. “I think it has helped us to realize the richness we have in our archdiocese in the different cultures, to see that we are very intercultural, and to see that as a good thing, an asset.”

In 2012, Father Taylor led the ministry in a major effort to host the National Black Catholic Congress. Then during 2013, plans were underway to host the National Association of African Catholics, another great accomplishment for the ministry.

By that time, Father Taylor had been heading the ministry for 14 years in a part-time capacity while still serving as pastor and administrator of one to two parishes.

It was a lot to take on, he admits.

“From the day [Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin] landed in the archdiocese” in 2012, the priest recalls, “he said, ‘I see this as a very important part of the archdiocese.’ And he wanted [the director] to be full time.”

In August of 2013, Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, then-Hispanic Ministry coordinator, took on the role as full-time director of what was later renamed the Intercultural Ministry.

Many new projects were undertaken during Brother Moises’ leadership from 2013-15. He began a leadership certification program to grow pastoral leaders in the Asian/Pacific Islanders, Black and Hispanic communities—the first of its kind in the United States; started the Intercultural Pastoral Institute at the former St. Bernadette School in Indianapolis to house the leadership classes and for other intercultural use; developed a program to certify Hispanic spiritual directors; and started an annual Intercultural Ministry Awards Dinner.

Also during his tenure, Archbishop Tobin approved a request from the Communauté Catholique Francophone d’Indiana—predominantly consisting of French-speaking African Catholic immigrants—to have a Mass celebrated monthly in French.

Brother Moises stepped down in December of 2015 to pursue a doctoral degree in leadership philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

Just last month, former Hispanic Ministry coordinator Oscar Castellanos took on the role as director of Intercultural Ministry. (See article on page 15.) If he could communicate anything to his predecessors, Castellanos says he would say “thank you for your perseverance and saying ‘yes’ to this particular ministry. You planted the seed so that others could continue the harvesting.”

His vision for the ministry is to have “more communities embracing diversity, and opening their doors and hearts to other ways of thinking, organizing, celebrating and praying.

“I see this ministry promoting intercultural competency through awareness, knowledge and skills that would allow our offices, schools and parishes to be enculturated in a Church that is more diverse than ever.”

That vision falls in line with what first motivated Father Taylor in creating the ministry.

“My idea was to strengthen the archdiocese so that [these cultural groups] can come to the table and be part of the archdiocese along with the majority community and be able to contribute just as much,” he says.

“I think the impact in the archdiocese is that a variety of voices have been added to the picture. People have been able to witness the liturgy expressed in a variety of ways—the same faith, the same Mass but different expressions.”

Throughout central and southern Indiana, Mass in Spanish is celebrated in 19 parishes in 12 cities and towns, as well as in Vietnamese in Bloomington and Indianapolis, and also in French and Korean in the capital city.

And more cultural voices can be heard on archdiocesan office boards, another goal of the Intercultural Ministry—not just to minister to Catholics of other cultures, but to bring those voices to all aspects of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

Such intercultural participation is simply practical, says Pimentel-Gannon.

“Our world and this country are changing,” she says. “The majority will be the minority, and in some cases already is. The more readily you are open to this, the more you’re going to enjoy the journey. It’s like fighting something that we have no control over, but rather being able to appreciate that we’re all God’s creation.”

She likens intercultural efforts in the Church to “bringing together a prism where no one light or color is better than the other. Each one alone is brilliant, but together it makes a phenomenal look and presence and feel.

“It’s a richer experience for everybody.” †

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