Speakers: “Embracing Historical Memory” Strengthens Church Ministries Today

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People attend the June 23, 2022 opening mass of the national multicultural gathering ‘Alive in Christ: Young, Diverse, Prophetic Voices Journeying Together’ in Chicago. Catholic ministry leaders, young adults, and bishops from dioceses and parishes across the country attended the June 23-26 event organized by the USCCB and led by several USCCB secretariats. (CNS Photo/courtesy USCCB)

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(CNS) Finding healing and exploring ways to work more effectively with diverse communities was the focus of the general session on the second day of “Life in Christ: Young, Diverse and Prophetic Voices Journeying Together,” a national multicultural gathering of Catholic ministry. leaders in Chicago June 23-26.

More than 300 Catholic ministry leaders, young adults, and bishops from dioceses and parishes across the country listened to panelists who spoke about the importance of embracing historical memories in their cultures and faith.

Anna Robertson remembers learning about historical memory in a rural town in El Salvador, where young people pledged to preserve the memory of that country’s civil war and the suffering of their communities so that history would not repeat itself.

Upon returning to the United States, Robertson wanted to share lessons learned.

“I think part of what fascinated me so much about these stories about these young people was my own sense of estrangement from historical memory,” said Robertson, who is the director of youth and youth engagement Catholic Climate Covenant adults.

During the “Walking Together” process, she heard stories of painful exclusion in ministry due to sexism or clericalism; she too, says Robertson, has felt the sting of exclusion.

“But I believe that turning courageously and curiously to historical memory is one way to help create a church where no one is excluded,” Robertson added.

Young Hoang, president of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement in the United States, explained how Vietnamese refugees clung to their faith as they began a new life in the United States. He has recently seen similar efforts among Ukrainian refugees.

“Recently, I had the opportunity to be on the border between Ukraine and Poland, and we were able to receive Ukrainian war refugees, and I could see many families clinging to photos of Our -Lady of Perpetual Help as a source of faith, something to move them forward,” said Hoang, who is from the Archdiocese of Washington.

The growth of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Movement, which began in 1984 and now has more than 140 chapters and more than 25,000 members across the United States, is an example of this historical memory embraced by Vietnamese Catholics, Hoang added.

Keynote speakers were Precious Blood Father David A. Kelly, executive director and founder of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, and Nicole Symmonds, professor of ethics at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

Father Kelly has worked for decades with youth and families impacted by violence and Chicago’s prison system. He discussed the importance of healing wounds and building paths by creating encounters and sharing commonalities that help multicultural communities come together in harmony.

“Because we are of Christian tradition, we place our collective stories within the larger story of a Christian story, of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“And so, you can enter these confused messes, these places of discomfort because you know that you never go there alone, but you will embrace a faith that takes us through death and misery and in time, hopefully the resurrection,” the priest added.

Symmonds encouraged participants not to be afraid of encountering discomfort and painful experiences in their dialogues and to accept the call to bear witness to the experiences of others.

“As people of faith, ritually, we are people of history. Every time we come to the table we talk about ‘Do this in memory of me’ so we already have a call,” added Symmonds.

The full day of activities included small group sessions for planning and workshops on issues such as supporting culturally diverse families and marriages; nurture vocations; promote healing and peace in diverse communities; encourage leadership; and caring for young adults.

The four-day gathering was the culmination of a two-year process to form collaborations and pave the way for continued engagement and leadership among young adults and culturally diverse communities in the ministry of the Church.

The conclusions of the meeting will be compiled and offered to dioceses, schools, Catholic organizations and apostolic movements for follow-up and implementation, according to the event’s website.

Robertson concluded by saying, “I believe Christ meets us in our story, so let’s tell it.”

The gathering opened with an afternoon welcoming Mass on June 23, followed by dinner. The mass was presided by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, and Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of Fairbanks, Alaska was the homilist.

Speakers at the opening general session held that evening discussed how the Catholic Church can advance and encourage “the diversity, gifts and prophetic voices” of young people in the Church of all cultural families.

They also explored “the gifts we all bring to the one body of Christ” to highlight the diversity of the Church.

Hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national multicultural event was spearheaded by the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, along with the USCCB Catholic Education Secretariats; Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations; evangelization and catechesis; and laity, marriage, family life and youth.

The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry also collaborated in the conference.

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