By Greg Erlandson - Our Sunday Visitor, 8/19/2012
On opening night in the Olympic Games, when the athletes process into the stadium, it is a rare moment — perhaps the only moment — when we can see so literally how God loves the diversity of his creation, for he has certainly blessed us with a radiant abundance of nations and cultures.
I had a similar experience when I lived in Rome for a few years. It was a peephole into the kaleidoscope that is the Catholic Church. Instead of athletes marching in costumes and bearing flags, however, the Church Universal is on display on buses like the pickpocket haven known as the “64,” groaning and wheezing from the train station to the Vatican, or the crowded sidewalks to St. Peter Square — all teeming with Asians, Africans, Hispanics and Caucasians: priests, nuns, emissaries and pilgrims.
I am always grateful for the great gift of being able to live abroad, because it gave me a chance for the geographic equivalent of an out-of-body experience. American born and baptized, I was able to see my country and my Church through the eyes of others.
What we Catholics take for granted in the United States — parish life, a plenitude of priests (yes, compared to many countries), the proximity of churches, the robust volunteers and staff of so many parishes and schools — are not shared by all.
For us, catechists are public school parents who volunteer (or are dragooned) into teaching for a year or two in a religious education program.
In many parts of the world, catechists are harassed, even martyred, for daring to hand on the Faith.
Catholic education is something that families do — sometimes at great risk and often without all the support we enjoy.
In some parts of the world, one may have to travel hours to go to Church, or may see a priest only once or twice a year.
All is vanity, we read in Ecclesiastes, and so much that we assume is our birthright as Catholics or that we feel we could not live without is vanity.
If this is true for our Church, it is also true for our nation. America is a tremendously blessed land, but our ignorance of other cultures is at times our undoing.
I found myself thinking these thoughts in the wake of the hideous slaughter at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin by a white racist named Wade Page on Aug. 5. While news is still trickling out about a man who could murder six people assembling to pray, it appears that he somehow judged the Sikhs — with their foreign dress, their turbans and their beards — as a threat. In his ignorance, he may even have seen them as Muslims.
This lethal stupidity would seem to be in keeping with a failure of a man who sought to make himself big by hating and demeaning others. He made his race and his country into idols, and in doing so, he demeaned both.
Only a handful of our fellow citizens are so murderous, although the numbers of those who may share such beliefs could be in the thousands. But there are many other acts of ignorance and prejudice that impact all sorts of minorities in our midst.
For Catholics — who have often felt the sting of prejudice, we are called to a special sensitivity in this regard. As members of the Church Universal, we should appreciate not only the dignity but the diversity of humanity.
And in our own country the face of our Church is changing rapidly, a kaleidoscope in the making that is impacting nearly every diocese and the majority of parishes.
We, though many, are one body, St. Paul wrote.
This is our glory. Our shame is when some of us assume our neighbors, or our Church, should all look like us.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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