Mar 2, 2017
One of the most pressing challenges facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. today is the necessity of more adequate ministry to the many ethnic communities growing within our national borders. Among the impediments said to be operative against effective incorporation of ethnic communities into the Church in the U.S. are that these communities are enormously diverse and, therefore, present huge challenges to mainstream Catholicism.
While these assertions are widely held among theorists of American Catholic multiculturalism, I suggest that they do not completely have the mature evidence of culture theory on their side.
The notion that American ethnic communities are quite diverse seems at first sight well grounded. Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian cultures can seem enormously different from each other. Clearly considerable differences do exist at the levels of cultural customs and practices. But at the level of what anthropologists call the “deep structures” of cultures, there are notable and striking similarities.
Consider, for instance, that the cultures just mentioned hold in common many of the following characteristics: a pervasive sense of divine presence in ordinary life; an attachment to place and a closeness to the earth; a strong communal memory; a heroic attitude in the face of suffering and deprivation; a deep consciousness of the home as a holy place; reverence for parents, elders, and ancestors; a closely knit communal life; a well-developed system of group festivity and celebration; and a ritualized response to birth, human transition, and death. I would call these cultures “traditional-communal.”
I would argue that the Catholic cultures of Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Poland were historically traditional-communal, exhibiting the same features just outlined, and that they continued to be so after being transported to the U.S. in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.