Thursday, May 19, 2011

Loss of Catholicism, Loss of Immigrant Culture

I begin this piece by asking a question: Am I wrong, cynical, or naive?

You can feel free to answer if you like after you've read what I'm about to say.

This morning, I was reflecting with two Capuchin Sisters, who were visiting our parish from PA, about how sad it was that the very ethnic immigrant parishes in the Scranton area were closing and combining.

As of course they should, both sisters took the positive perspective that it was a time of new birth for the Church in that area.

But, I continued and said how I mourned the loss of the cultural identities even with the "new birth".

Upon hearing my brief lament, one sister commented, "They were too caught up in their culture, and not in their Catholicism."

I had to stop -- I didn't want to disagree, but I thought if it weren't for their culture, their Catholicism surely would have waned -- it was the fabric that held them together, gave them a sense of home and the courage to build the beautiful Churches that are now being "decommissioned", so to speak, by decree of the local bishop. These ethnic communities thrived and felt "at home" in America as more and more immigrants arrived and formed (really built from the ground up) their Catholic Churches, towns and industry.

It was not a matter of clinging to an ethnic identity that dragged Catholicism to its knees, but rather, a secularized and relativistic culture intruded upon it with its "throw out morals & religion" ideology. Certainly, it was important for immigrants to embrace their new home, integrate into American life, but even to this day in my own home, the Sicilian customs and traditions are nurtured not lost. That tie to who we are and where we came from is why we are Catholic today. It was important and lived -- even in a time when the culture could easily have ripped it out from under us.

There was of course that transitional time after Vatican II where a generation or so had nothing but their cultural roots to cling as a means of staying Catholic. The anti-establishment, anti-institutional thinking of the mid-1960's to the present day have disrupted the deep and abiding hope that we are all called to in religious practice. But, how grateful I am to my parents, even in the midst of the turmoil and change that ensued in the "implementation" of Vatican II, for sticking to their cultural roots, for raising us Catholic because that was what "Sicilians" did and how they lived. Thank God that the culture that I was raised in, although I had never been to Sicily in my youth, or known my Sicilian relatives, permeated the way I believed -- because we lived the culture of the Church in Sicily.

It is my hope that perhaps I didn't understand the good sister correctly.

Unfortunately, I can't help but feel sorrowful at the loss of the ethnic Faith communities -- Mother Church is designed to nourish those communities, Mother Mary appeared to cultures in their native identities. I don't think it was ever the desire of any of those heroic immigrants for their children to lose their cultural roots or their Catholicism. And, I don't see the closing of those Churches as a result of them embracing too strongly their immigrant culture -- not at all -- rather, they abandoned it to the culture of death (also not what American culture was intended to be).

 It is essential that we recognize and honor the tireless efforts of immigrant cultures to build the Church here in America, to give Jesus a home in a Tabernacle and building that reminded them of their homeland. Therein lies a very holy and reverent example to us all that worshiping God meant building community and a facility so beautiful that it brought Him Glory and brought people together. Just reflect on the sacrifice of love and effort  it took to make the privilege of honoring God in the new homeland possible. It is a sorrow to see so much culture and tradition fade away, and with it hope in the Eucharist. It is my prayer that in this new birth of the Church in Scranton,of which the sister speaks, much of this immigrant culture can be recaptured and embraced. May God continue to build up His Holy Church and revitalize these communities of Faith.

Polish Community in PA honoring the Black Madonna of Czestechowa, Poland

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