Navigate Up
Sign In
Menu

A message from the bishop

The Richness of Diversity (January/February 2016)
 
My dear friends,
 
Visit any large city in the United States and you will run into a diversity of races and ethnic groups. Cleveland has Little Italy, Slavic Village and Chinatown, along with many neighborhoods identified with a particular nationality. The Grand Rapids diocese shares some of this diversity.
 
The Tulip Time Festival in Holland and Pulaski Days in Grand Rapids come to mind, as well as a strong Vietnamese community throughout the area. Nor can we overlook our large and vibrant Hispanic community, the most widespread group within our 11-county diocese.
 
Diversity is a rich and beautiful feature of the human family. Anyone who has picked up a National Geographic can recall the wonder and awe not only at viewing photos of the beautiful and mysterious places on earth, but also learning about the unique richness and beauty of the peoples who live there.
 
We are all descendants of immigrants. Think of the variety of surnames we encounter among our
neighbors, in school, in the workplace, and beyond! I am getting better at pronouncing Dutch surnames,
which I rarely encountered in the Cleveland area. Indeed, the story of the Catholic Church in the
United States is largely one of nationality parishes. Those faith communities offered welcome. They
gave people a sense of belonging and security. At Mass, you would find other people who spoke your
language, knew your customs and ate the same food. They would help you assimilate to the new community with a job or perhaps a place to live, or translate documents written in English. After immigrants arrive and begin learning an unfamiliar language and living in a new culture, their language, customs and native culture remain a rock of strength and refuge in their lives.
 
I recently celebrated Mass for the Hispanic Charismatic Conference at West Catholic High School. I found people from all over West Michigan and beyond, joyfully celebrating the liturgy and praising God with enthusiastic singing, accompanied by uplifting music. The power of prayer and profound sense of faith there was palpable. It is perhaps the first time I’ve ever finished a Mass where very few left after it was over! People remained together, praying in their places. What a great experience of God’s people alive in the Spirit! What a blessing our Hispanic brothers and sisters have proven to be for our local Church!
 
As bishop, I want to ensure that our diocese welcomes immigrants and refugees from every land in
the best tradition of our nation. I am reminded of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, The New Colossus,
written in 1883, the year Bishop Richter was ordained as the first bishop of Grand Rapids. That poem’s
famous words, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" are now indelibly engraved into the collective American memory. The Statue of Liberty, which occasioned the writing of the poem, has become a symbol of welcome for thousands of immigrants leaving their mother countries. This sense of welcome is our heritage. We must not, as a nation or as a Church, retreat from welcoming strangers from foreign lands who struggle to come to this country to escape persecution and violence, or to build a better life for themselves.
 
We will strive to address the pastoral needs of all immigrants and refugees who have come or will arrive in our already diverse community in the days ahead. In particular, as immigrants from Latin American countries continue to arrive in the diocese, it is important that we reach out and communicate to them in their native language. FAITH Grand Rapids is one way we can do that. Starting with the November edition, we began a new Spanish-language section, entitled Viviendo Nuestra Fe, or, Living Our Faith. This new feature represents a combined effort of the Office of Communication and Office of Hispanic
Ministry. Published four times per year, the section will feature unique columns, faith stories, news
and catechesis in Spanish.
 
May we recognize in the lives of those who come to us from other lands their gifts of a vibrant Catholic
faith, a deep sense of family life, and the values they bring from their homelands. As they share their gifts among us, may they not only find their place here, but also help to renew our society from within!
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak