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From national churches to ‘One Family Under God’
By Luis Soto
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” — Acts 2:4-6
This scriptural event—Pentecost—marks the birth of the Catholic Church, the birth of its Catholic identity. It is the diverse context of the Church’s birth which reveals not only her Catholic nature and universal mission, but reminds us that the gift of the Gospel message always comes wrapped in a particular culture and linguistic package. There is no other way, because faith builds on nature.
Something similar is happening in the Church in the United States today and, specifically, in the Archdiocese of Denver. The cultural and linguistic diversity we were accustomed to seeing in select churches and in large metropolitan areas is now permeating every ministry, parish and movement. So what happens now when, as in Pentecost, the whole world shows up on the doorstep and wants to come in—and in some cases is in already?
The first response to this diversity in American Catholic history was the “national church” model. Under this model, we dealt with diversity through parallel communities—all Catholic churches but with distinctly German, Italian, Irish, Polish, etc., parishioners. It was a model of isolation.
As the descendants of Euro-Catholic immigrants entered the mainstream of U.S.-society, the acceptance of the Church as “American” grew. The “melting pot” model for dealing with diversity through assimilation became the general stance of the Church. It was a model of assimilation.
The Archdiocese of Denver‘s response today is called “One Family Under God.” It is not isolation or assimilation, but integration: a model in which the body of Christ can be enriched by its diverse nature, a model in which our Catholic identity takes prominence over our ethnic identity. In the coming months you will find future reflections that will help us build our One Family Under God.
Luis Soto is director of the One Family Under God program.