By Matthew Greeley | Special Contributor
As parishes met individually and in Cohorts during the evaluation and consultation phases of the Faith in Our Future initiative, a priority that emerged was the need to provide for the growing diversity within the Diocese.
In order to walk with and minister to the multicultural community spread across Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties, a number of parishes are being designated as Centers for Ministry among specific cultural groups. Seventeen sites are named for ministry among Hispanic Catholics, with another to be named in southern Ocean County by July, 2018; two with Portuguese and Brazilian Catholics, and two with Haitian Catholics.
In announcing his decisions, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., stressed that the designated parish centers “will provide both ministerial outreach and liturgical celebrations for the named ethnic or language group.”
Many of the parishes selected as centers have already become bicultural or multicultural in nature. They minister among English-speaking residents, as well as among the cultural group the center will serve. These parishes will celebrate Mass in the group’s native language, but, just as importantly, the Centers will assure a deeper faith experience, offering ministries, programs and service opportunities in Spanish, Portuguese or Creole to foster a fuller participation in the life of the Church.
The designation of a parish as a Center for Ministry among a cultural group by no means implies the intention to create a separate parish experience or a divided community. The various cultural groups are to be included as integral parts of the one parish family. The Centers are to foster unity and build bridges of sharing and cooperation between the various segments of the parish family of faith.
The parishes were chosen based on the number of Catholics of the given ethnic group as well as the proximity to other communities with similar populations. The number of Centers for each cultural group is limited by a host of factors. For this reason, parishes designated as Centers will welcome Catholics from the cultural group who live in the general region, not only in their parish territory.
Over the course of time, parishes designated as Centers will make a conscious effort to have bilingual people on the parish staff, to offer opportunities for spiritual formation and continued learning, and to actively raise up ministry volunteers from within the cultural group. The parish should endeavor to engage members of the cultural group in pastoral and finance councils, school boards and other leadership teams responsible to plan for the life of the whole parish.
Bishop O’Connell’s designation of these parishes as Centers for Ministry is one of the steps found in the diocesan Pastoral Plan for Ministries among Spanish-speaking Catholics. The pastoral plan offers some expectations for Centers for Ministry:
A priest in residence who speaks the native language of the cultural group
Bilingual staff in the parish office, and in a faith formation role
A liturgical musician who can incorporate a variety of music within the larger parish
Trained parishioners who speak the language and can serve in liturgical /worship ministries
Faith formation and leadership formation in the native language
Training for the laity of the cultural group to become ministers of Holy Communion to the sick and homebound or to participate in other pastoral care ministries
Diocesan personnel will support the parishes in their efforts, offering guidance and resources where the parish needs it along the way. This model of cultural ministry and awareness is another step on the Diocese of Trenton’s road to lift up and celebrate the gifts and experiences of the diverse diocesan family. Its aim is to continue to empower the people of the various cultural groups to feel “at home” in multicultural parish communities where Catholics practice and share their faith.
Greeley is associate director of the Diocese’s Office of Communications and Media, and coordinator of Spanish-language communications.