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New book shares ideas to engage Asian Catholics

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The diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries is ramping up outreach to the Asian and Pacific Island (API) Catholic community through a new book, Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters, published by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.  

"The bishops wanted this to be a pastoral response, so that it could be a living document to hopefully stimulate and generate ideas of how to engage API Catholics and bring them more into the full body of the church,” said Corinne Monogue, director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries, who was part of an advisory committee that helped shape the document from concept to completion. “This really is a great tool for chancery offices, dioceses and parishes.” 

The Diocese of Arlington features in the book as one of the top 15 U.S. dioceses with the most Asian and Pacific Island (API) Catholics, with 53,477 in a list topped by Los Angeles and Brooklyn. The diverse countries represented by Catholics in the diocese include Vietnam, Korea, China, Japan, India and the Pacific Islands.

The document is aimed primarily at non-Asian Catholics to promote understanding of Asian cultures and encourage dialogue between East and West. According to the first chapter of the book, many Asian Catholics are overlooked within their parish communities and feel invisible or excluded. This is something that the Office of Multicultural Ministries hopes to change.

“What makes this book unique is that we view our Asian and Pacific Islander brothers and sisters in the light of how their faith expressed through their culture can be engaged as a gift in parishes and on the national and diocesan levels,” said Monogue. “We talk about recognizing their gifts and how we can welcome them into the church.”

This pastoral guide begins with insights from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” including the statement: “In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity.”

The chapters identify four main pillars relevant to API Catholic communities ­­­— identity, generations, leadership and cultural encounters in faith. The work examines how racism affects them; cultural celebrations, such as Lunar New Year; emphasis on family relationships and filial piety; and devotions to Mary and the saints.

“It was really critical that we added a component about Mary and the saints,” Monogue said. “One thing we found through all of our surveying, data and communication with our small and large focus groups is that all API Catholic communities have a strong devotion to Mary. She is a thread that weaves between all of these groups.”

Monogue said a wide spectrum of people collaborated to make the book a reality, including sociologists, community leaders from API Catholic faith groups, focus groups on local and national levels, and API students on college campuses. Surveys and studies necessary to complete the work took more than a year.

Monogue said that several good ways to engage Asian Catholics in communities and ministries is to reach out directly to them, encourage cultural celebrations and encounters, and to modify programs and activities to invite them to participate.

“So many times we automatically think that we need to translate everything into English and Spanish. However, many times, including small lines in a different language, such as Korean or Vietnamese, to reach your brothers and sisters from the API community will really make them feel welcome and bring them engaged into your activity or ministry,” she said.

“My supreme hope would be that parish leaders are asked to read and absorb this. Then, hopefully, they’ll start to see API Catholic diversity within their parish through a different lens and ways to invite them to a fuller participation in parish life and ministries.” 

Fletcher can be reached at zita.fletcher@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zbfletcherACH.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019