By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, it is my pleasure to introduce myself to you once again. I am deeply grateful to Fran Lavalle and Bishop Joseph Kopacz for inviting me to this diocese. I joined the Office of Intercultural Ministry last October and if not for COVID I would have toured all the parishes of the diocese by now.
The philosophy behind intercultural ministry is that it is not enough to just know that people from other cultures exist among us; we need to dialogue with them. Interculturalism, therefore, involves moving beyond mere passive acceptance of a many cultures in a community. The beauty lies in the many cultures effectively existing in society to the level of promoting mutual respect and dialogue. I believe that intercultural ministry is a genuine fruit that must grow out of authentic multicultural ministry.
People cannot just exist side by side in the church for several decades without engaging with one another in fruitful and respectful dialogue. Intercultural philosophy/theology challenges the idea of legitimizing segregated communities, leaving them in isolation from each other. Why? Because isolation leads to death. That explains why most of the national churches in our big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc., died out.
From pastoral experience, effective multicultural offices in Catholic dioceses should after some years grow into one intercultural office. That is why the people serving in multicultural offices cannot just be proficient in various human languages but must also be fluent in reading and speaking the language of the heart – love. It is only when we are converted and transformed that we can make ourselves available as instruments of transformation.
Today’s church is not just talking about tolerance or collaboration, but we are talking about being in profoundly genuine communion with God and with one another.
Daisey Martinez is the associate for this office. She is also fluent in Spanish and English and also in the language of the heart – her smile. We are here for everyone. Our plan is to visit every parish to introduce ourselves. That is done right now by invitation for obvious reasons. Some parishes would prefer to see us only when the pandemic is completely over, and we don’t have to mask up like a masquerade ball – LOL. We have a few parishes lined up for the months of February and March.
We hope to also visit schools, (public and private), hospitals, youth groups, and so on, building bridges and encouraging people to see diversity as a gift to be celebrated and not a problem to be solved.
During our visit to parishes, especially for workshops, we will dwell heavily on “Open Wide our Hearts,” a pastoral letter the USCCB published in 2018. We will build on the workshop that Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, presented to the clergy of the Diocese of Jackson in the month of January.
Post COVID, we hope to have a big celebration in which all the different ethnic groups in the diocese will gather with the bishop to celebrate our diversity.
As we begin this Lenten season, let us continue to pray for one another that the true spirit of Repentance may be experienced by all.
(Father Clem Oyafemi is the coordinator for the Office of Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese of Jackson.)