Bishops’ Pastoral Letter offers a window into Asian-Pacific Islander communities

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By Sister Maria Jennifer Nguyen, L.H.C.

 I have been in the United States for almost 40 years and lived in many different states. The first time I encountered various Asians and non-Asian Pacific Islanders was when I was a teenager in an English as Second Language (ESL) class.

There were many languages spoken in that one classroom, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laos, Mandarin, Cantonese, Dutch and French, to name a few. It was just an amazing, beautiful and very enriching experience. However, I was too young to appreciate or pay attention to the differences of others. As I grew older, I was somewhat aware of the diversity of the places where I lived and worked. However, I did not consciously or intentionally involve myself with the parish or with different Asian or non-Asian Pacific groups due to time and work until I returned to the Diocese of San Bernardino in 2011 and began working in the Office of Asian Pacific Ministry. 

 Our Diocese is very diverse and with many Asian and Pacific Island communities. I learned that the Asian Pacific ministry was present in the Diocese of San Bernardino in the early 1990’s. Father Romeo Seleccion, MS, was the first person to oversee the Asian Pacific Ministry program, namely the Filipino Ministry, in the Diocese of San Bernardino. Eventually, a couple of other Asian Pacific communities followed. 

 Bishop Gerald Barnes saw the rapid growth of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States and in the Diocese of San Bernardino and he knew that these communities needed pastoral care. Therefore, he officially established the Office of Asian Pacific Ministry in the Jubilee Year 2000. The Office of Asian Pacific Ministry presently has the following communities in the Diocese: Samoans, Tongans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Koreans and, as of Fall 2018, a new Chinese community.

 The Asian Pacific communities bring many blessings, such as their rich and diverse cultures, colorful traditions, popular devotions – especially to our Blessed Mother – and their respective Saints. They have a strong sense of family, community, communal activities, respect for their elders and for authority. They have a high regard for education and willingly, silently sacrifice for their children’s education. They try to instill in the children their cultural values, traditions and language. As they share the richness of their diversity, challenges are also a reality when different cultures come together as Church.

 With concern of how best to minister to the Asian and Pacific Island brothers and Sisters, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) unanimously approved the document, “Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters” during their Spring Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last year. This document offers a pastoral framework and resources for parish, diocesan and national levels. 

 With this in mind, the Office of Asian Pacific Ministry wishes to introduce the Pastoral Letter to the Asian and non-Asian and Pacific Islander Catholics through seminars and short inserts of the document in the BYTE. There will be a two-day seminar May 31 and June 1, 2019 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. The seminar on May 31 is open to parish leaders and others are welcome. The seminar will be presented in English and simultaneous translation in Spanish will be available. The seminar on June 1 is the Asian Pacific Formation Day, and everyone is welcome. The seminar will be presented in English, Vietnamese, Korean, Indonesian, Samoan, Tongan, and Chinese. 

 We welcome your continued support, and we pray that, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, the document will bring greater understanding of the uniqueness and the richness of our diversity. 

 So let us begin with the Introduction to “Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters.”

Introduction

 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published “Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith” in 2001. That pastoral statement was the fruit of several decades of working to identify and address the needs of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics living in the United States. “Harmony in Faith” outlined the cultural, social, and ethnic diversity found in many Asian and Pacific Island communities while recognizing and celebrating the range of gifts and values common to most of these communities. Among these shared gifts and values, several are worth emphasizing: (1) the value of harmony amid diversity; (2) the centrality of family, with its stress on solidarity, filial piety, and respect for the elderly and for ancestors; (3) the importance of education; (4) the traditions of deep spirituality and popular piety; (5) the contributions of clergy and religious; and (6) a long tradition of lay leadership. At the same time, the bishops’ statement noted some of the challenges U.S. society poses to Asian and Pacific Island cultures, including racial discrimination, stereotyping, and the clash of values between a more communitarian Asian and Pacific cultural ethos and the more individualist focus of mainstream U.S. culture. As the term implies, a more communitarian culture tends to stress the needs of the family and community over those of the individual.

 The conclusion of “Harmony in Faith” called for the development of a national pastoral plan for Asian and Pacific Island Catholics in the United States. Ten years after the pastoral statement was released, the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs started an assessment of what has happened since, and various Asian and Pacific Island representatives, gathering under the auspices of this subcommittee, identified the need to take the next step. The result was the creation of this pastoral response.

 We, the Catholic bishops of the United States, offer this pastoral response to assist diocesan and parish leaders and all the faithful in welcoming and integrating our Asian and Pacific Island brothers and sisters as they strive to live a faith-filled life in the Catholic Church. The diverse ethnic communities that make up the Asian and Pacific Island population have already been identified in “Harmony in Faith,” which emphasizes the need to acknowledge their presence. Today, the Asian and Pacific Island population in the United States is the fastest-growing minority population. Nevertheless, it tends to go unrecognized in the wider U.S. society, and there remains a need to bring more attention and support to the Asian and Pacific Island communities. Asian and Pacific Island Catholics in the United States embody a rich and deep history of Catholicism, a synthesis of traditional Catholic practices infused with the unique cultural characteristics particular to each of the various ethnic groups that make up those identified as Asian and Pacific Islander. Asian and Pacific Island Catholics are eager to share their experiences and gifts as well as to receive support from the wider Catholic Church in the United States.


 Sr. Maria Jennifer Nguyen is a Sister of the Lovers of the Holy Cross and Director of the Office of Asian-Pacific Ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino.