- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

Excerpts from an address Friday by Sister Mary Mollison to a joint Baltimore meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Our theme of "Changing Faces, Changing Hearts" acknowledges that the predominantly European-American face of church and society is changing around us.
The book of Acts describes how the Gospel message moved beyond Judaism and Jerusalem in one generation. It reached the limits of the then-known world. The visions of Cornelius and Peter [Acts 10:34] show us that God has no favorites. And later, "the circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were surprised that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also."
Why is it that we cherish diversity in nature, in trees, flowers and sunsets, but struggle to accept diversity in culture, ethnicity and race? As we become increasingly passionate about our commitment to reject white privilege, eliminate racism, nurture multicultural community, and challenge power structures in our church and society, we will annoy others.
To build multicultural communities, we as women and men religious must strive to eliminate racism. "Endemic racism and patterns of cultural ethnocentrism have historically infected the very moral structures and processes of American communities of religious life," Jamie T. Phelps says in "Religious Life and Cultural Inclusiveness."
Since the days of the apostles, the Christian community has struggled to distinguish the essence of Christianity from its cultural expression. At this time in history, says the Jesuit writer Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, the church needs to break out of the "confining limits of Western Christian theology." He urges us "to open the church to inculturation in ways of life in which Western perceptions are not meaningful," particularly in cultures where religion is a way of life, not a collection of doctrine. We are one church with many cultures.
Nurturing multicultural community demands risk-taking. For three generations, European immigrants shed their languages and customs to take on the dominant language and culture of this nation. Assimilation was the ticket for "belonging." Adapting quickly to "being an American" was important to second- and third-generation immigrants. Bilingualism was perceived as a threat. Just this month, the Census Bureau said that 18 percent of school-age immigrants of the past decade speak a language other than English at home. Think back on the history of your own religious congregation and remember the stories of the predominant language to be used for communication.
As a leader, what is your stance on the diversity of languages within your province or congregation? Diversity creates tension in many realms of church leadership. As ecclesial women and men we frequently encounter theological diversity. Prophetic voices and magisterial power clash. We, like Peter the fisherman, must take the risk, at times, to jump out of the official boat and walk, in faith, toward Jesus.
Issues abound related to style of prayer and preaching, choice of music, translation of texts, and body movement and dance. What are our fears as diverse cultures gather to celebrate Eucharist? How do popular devotions from diverse Catholic cultures enrich the American Catholic tradition?
Telling our stories is important in this transformation. Dawna Markova says there are "rut stories" that keep us stuck so "we always are who we always have been." With these, we lose hope and cannot move beyond hurtful experiences of the past. Then there are "river stories." They flow into new insights, "carrying us forward toward new possibilities." Faces around us are changing. Changing our hearts, in turn, is an inward journey that transforms those rut stories into stories that flow like a river.

Next week: a sermon at a D.C. congregation.


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