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Publication: Pastoral Music
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 78644
ISSN: 03636569
Journal code: PSMS

When he described the 2010 Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation, the executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, Rev. Allan F. Deck, SJ, wrote: "In May 2010, the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church convened a two-day gathering of Catholic leadership from among the many cultures that constitute" membership of the Catholic Church in the United States today. He continued: It "created an atmosphere of dialogue and collegiality by providing opportunities for leaders to exchange hopes, dreams, and challenges." Each of the six primary ethnic families (African American; Asian Pacific; European American; Hispanic; Native American; and Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers) came with its own history, traditions, and pastoral needs. Father Deck also noted that "in the spirit of Encuentro 2000, the Convocation opened minds and hearts to the evangelizing potential of the Church's rich and growing diversity."1

As the Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation Notebook states: "Liturgy [and worship] was central to the Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation, engaging the culturally diverse families in a conscious, active, and fruitful participation."2 The theme that ran throughout all worship services was "unity within diversity." The participants commented how moving and powerful the worship experiences were and how they wished they could replicate them in their parish. Well, they can. Today, we have grown to expect liturgical leaders to welcome everyone from the various cultural families, to include them and their music traditions, to sway when it's appropriate to sway, to use the right drum with the right beat, and to mold the parishioners into the Body of Christ. However, this is easier said than done.

As Father Allan described the situation in 2010, "an obvious 'sign of the times' for the Catholic Church in the United States [is] the demographic changes taking place in our parishes, dioceses, schools, and Catholic organizations as they become more culturally, racially, and socially diverse than ever before."3This fact underlines the urgent need for a more inclusive vision and appropriate attitude, knowledge, and skills among ecclesial leaders, especially pastoral musicians and liturgists, for addressing these challenges.

A Common Heritage

Cultural and ethnic diversity are the common heritage of all Americans. From the hundreds of First Nation tribes who are native to this land; to the waves of immigrants from Europe and forced migrants from Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; to newcomers in the last century, mostly from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, cultural, racial, and social diversity are the signs of the times in this country today.

Among these newcomers are about 350,000 Catholics who speak dozens of different languages and include a growing community of Eastern Catholic faithful, though the majority comes from Spanish-speaking countries. They worship in different ways. They are present not only in the pews of parish churches but also in rectories, seminaries, Catholic schools, hospitals, and organizations, as well as various other institutions.

The celebration of the Eucharist throughout the country clearly demonstrates the reality of this diversity. In dioceses and archdioceses like Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston, Sunday Mass is celebrated in about thirty-five to sixty languages each week. Some parishes offer Mass at separate times in different languages to accommodate different constituencies. For example, on any given Sunday, a parish may celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Portuguese. Additionally, a multilingual Mass may gather diverse communities to a common worship celebration during Pentecost, on Marian feasts, and on Migration Sundays.

As cultural and racial diversity increase in the Catholic Church, pastors and other parish leaders face the difficult task of balancing their pastoral responses so that both the newcomers and the rooted parish community will feel that they belong together in one shared local parish. Ministers must provide assistance to immigrants who are transitioning to new lives and faith practices, while at the same time helping the host parishioners to be welcoming and accepting of the inevitable changes that are taking place in the parish.

Rev. Deck has noted that "today it is becoming clear that for the common good there must be more dialogue across the boundaries of race and culture."4 Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord states that ecclesial ministry requires a "special level of professional competence"5 to "prepare people for service in different cultural communities. A multicultural emphasis should pervade the content, methods, goals, and design of formation programs."6

Practice, Practice, Practice

Diversifying worship and musical programs is encouraged. However, some things must happen to ensure success. The one-size-fits-all mentality is "gone with the wind." Whatever change is brought about, practice is a foundational element to accomplishing professional goals. Building intercultural competence supports this approach that growth is a process; it will happen over time. No one becomes interculturally competent with only one attempt; it just doesn't happen immediately. There is no one point at which an individual becomes completely interculturally competent. For example, it could take a whole year to properly prepare a Simbang Gabi Mass.

An understanding of "culture" is fundamental to building intercultural competency among ministers. But there is no one definition to the concept "culture." In the Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers manual (BICM), culture in the modern sense is described as "the unity of language, custom, and territory. Thus if a people share a common language, have similar customs and material objects, and live within a defined territory, they represent a culture."7

Many sociologists and experts in cross-cultural education distinguish between "external" and "internal" culture. "External" culture is the visible part which can be seen, touched, heard, savored, and smelled. These elements include language, art, music, dance, food, dress, architecture, action, and behavior. But "external" culture constitutes a small part of any culture.

The larger part is invisible and is referred to as "internal" culture. It comprises unconscious beliefs, thought patterns, values, assumptions, and myths which affect everything in the external culture. To discover and understand internal culture is more challenging and is a lifelong process. Most cultural clashes occur on the internal, unconscious level. To become interculturally competent, pastoral workers need to examine more closely the "internal" part of culture.

The question then arises: What is intercultural competence? The BICM manual describes intercultural competence as "the capacity to communicate and work across cultural boundaries," involving the development of capacities in attitude, knowledge, and skills.8 There are four main approaches to becoming interculturally competent.

Attitude: The embracing of curiosity, open-mindedness, flexibility, and a willingness to engage other cultures and to change.

Knowledge: Involves the cognitive capacity to ascertain levels of self-awareness, to grasp the general dynamics of culture, and to analyze the different ways in which people of different cultures think about themselves and others and how they act upon that knowledge.

Skills: The tools needed to develop relationships with people of cultures other than one's own and to cultivate empathy for others, along with specific skills such as listening, decision making, and problem solving.

Spirituality: A sound ecclesiology which recognizes the Church as a communion of diverse members.

The new program "Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers" is offered as a sample intercultural learning process. It takes effort and time to reach competence. The following are only three of the many practical actions to consider.

Building intercultural competence is intentional and deliberate. A robust attitude of openness to learning is critical. Keep eyes, ears, minds, and hearts open to the variety of cultures, peoples, languages, musical traditions, and faith practices in the parish. Observe, read, and try out new ways of doing and being. Venture beyond your comfort zone.

Proper training is essential. Every ministerial leader, volunteer, or participant should experience intercultural competence building programs and develop a basic understanding of who their parishioners are today. Parishes should send ministerial leaders to training as intercultural trainers so that they in turn can train others.

Experience and expose yourself and your parishioners to cultural events and learning opportunities. Know your people-where they are from, the languages they speak, the generations present, and the cultural nuances of devotions and forms of prayers.

Find innovative ways to create opportunities, such as liturgical, educational, and social occasions, which bring together the cultural mix, acknowledge and affirm the richness of diversity, and overcome cultural chasms. Hold celebrations which invite all cultures to share food, music, dance, and stories. Multicultural liturgies and celebrations, cultural shows, choir concerts, biblical dramas (which are popular among various immigrant and racial groups), and host family stays are examples of effective culture-learning experiences.

The success of parish ministries will depend on how ministers appreciate cultural differences and promote interaction. For example, placing a trombone section next to a violin section does not automatically cause beautiful music. Similarly, bringing cultures together is the first step of many to bring about healthy relationships.

Set up an intercultural advisory committee composed of representatives from the various cultural, racial, and generational groups present in the parish to advise the pastor and planning bodies on all aspects of parish life and to assist in moments of tension. Identify people in the parish who can be cultural or racial resources responsible for sharing about their culture and faith practices, their music and movements, and their special devotions and feast days (especially those which are Marian).

In some instances, parishes have a multicultural or intercultural liturgy committee, which is familiar with the traditions of the parish and the unique faith expressions of particular cultural communities. The committee provides valuable assistance in the delicate task of preparing special intercultural liturgies.

Tried and True and New

The changing demographic reality and the mobility of people in this postmodern world require the Church's solicitous effort to include both tried and true pastoral responses as well as new ways to evangelize, to provide pastoral care, and to welcome and be hospitable to each other. It behooves all ministers and leaders in all levels of Church life to face directly the need for intercultural competence if they are to serve a diverse community of believers appropriately, with an authentic welcome that is respectful of the various cultures and religious traditions which are mutually enriching to the incoming community, the receiving community, and the Catholic Church in this country.


1. Rev. Allan F. Deck, SJ, "Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation," Fr. Allan's Blog, June 9, 2010,

2. The Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation Notebook (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 11.

3. Rev. Allan F. Deck, SJ, "Building a More Inclusive Church: Intercultural Competence for Ministry," Fr. Allan's Blog, June 24, 2011,

4. Rev. Allan F. Deck, SJ, "Convocation Responds to Dramatic Demographic Shifts and Quest for a Robust Catholic Identity," accessed October 2011,

5. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2008), 12.

6. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 36.

7. Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers: Modules for Training Workshop (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 13.

8. Ibid., 15.

Author affiliation:

Ms. Beverly Carroll is an assistant director in the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church and serves as staff to the Subcommittee for African American Affairs.

Ms. Cecile L. Motus is also an assistant director in the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. She joined USCCB in March 1999 as Ethnic Ministries Coordinator for Asian and Pacific Islanders at the Migration and Refugee Services Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR); she later served as Interim Director of PCMR.

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