METAIRIE, LOUISIANA--During our last Provincial Assembly, one of our guests, after having had the opportunity to dialogue with some of the younger brothers present, approached me and effusively congratulated me--us--for being such a diverse and, at the same time, united group. A few days thereafter, I heard about some brothers' perception of the same experience. And this perception was negative! One of the reasons for their disapproving perception was, as one brother stated, his consternation in the face of the "new" multicultural reality of our Province. New members from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds were changing, he thought, not only the racial and ethnic composition of the Province but also challenging its stability.
These two very different appreciations of the same reality have led me into a series of reflections which I would like to share with you. Moreover, I strongly feel I must share them with you.
Fifteen years ago as the Province was being "founded," those of us who had the privilege of being the "founding fathers" were well aware of the very specific ethnic and cultural diversity of the territories of the new Province. The presence of African-Americans, Latinos, Vietnamese and other groups was not an unknown reality to us. We even stated they were an integral part of our mission. We saw ourselves called to serve them. Moreover, our Ad Instar Chapter of 1980 already spoke about recruiting members among minority groups. So in #61.a of the 1980 Acts we stated, "We encourage vocations to our Province from among Blacks and Hispanics, and urge local communities to develop means to assist them in meeting the requirements, including academic, for admission to our novitiate." This recommendation was endorsed again by #43 of the Acts of the 1984 Chapter and by #39 and #40 of the Acts of the 1988 Chapter. And the 1993 Chapter, foreseeing possible difficulties in this regard, stated that "in order to better encourage minority vocations and our own religious integrity each community should examine its attitudes toward racism, sexism and other prejudices that affect us as persons, as a society and as a church. The effect of such an honest self-appraisal should be conversion of ourselves. We recommend the use of local resource persons for this self-examination."
Fifteen years after our foundation, as some brothers raise their brows or their voices to complain about "the multicultural threat to the unity of the Province," they are not doing it because of ignorance of the well known sociological facts of the multicultural diversity within the territories of the Province. They are not doing it because of a moral or evangelical call to serve them. They are doing it because--and it even hurts to say it--they are afraid that THEY are becoming US.
The increased number of non-Anglo vocations coming to us during the recent years has made very evident to us that something is changing in the Southern Province. Something that--maybe for some was an unthinkable possibility--is happening: we no longer have to go somewhere else to watch the rainbow; we are becoming it! And this process is bringing all kinds of unnamed fears and prejudices to the surface. WE must talk about them. WE must find their names and address them knowing that, if they remain unnamed, they will poison and threaten to destroy us.
After 15 years we are facing a crisis worse than any financial disaster or any legal embroglio. It is a crisis that questions the very heart of who we are in the Southern Province and undermines the moral confidence we have in one another to construct a Dominican future in the South.
By right and tradition we are well aware that neither the Church nor the Order nor any Province is the privileged and exclusive territory of any ethnic, language or cultural group. Those three entities are a divine intent precisely to overcome those differences. The Kingdom of God which we proclaim and preach about is not built upon human differences but upon a moment of grace which enables us to overcome them. Invited to taste on earth the gifts of the world to come , says the preface for the Masses for religious. Utopia? If we think that way, what reason do we have to exist?
The closing words of A new birth in hope are still valid and daring to us.
"The challenge of these first... years is awesome. Recognizing the vast territory of our Province, its diversity of races, languages and religions, its pluriformity of tradition and custom, we easily might stagger. Let us believe! Recall that Jesus took pity on the crowd. He summoned the disciples and sent them out to preach with power. Yet, Jesus warned the first disciples not to go out poorly equipped for the task. We so quickly muster our human resources, plan our strategy and foolishly believe that the mission is ours, apart from the Lord. We too quickly turn a divine initiative into a human enterprise. Let us go forth empowered with God's Spirit who can accomplish all things. Let us be filled with joyful expectation, knowing that our hope is born of a Kingdom already given. Amen."
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