Continuing in the presentation from Sister Pat Murray, IBVM, at the annual Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) I write about her fourth point: “Celebrate our luxurious cultural diversity.” She asks the the question of religious leaders: “How can we bring a positive contribution to the challenge of global intercultural living? ” She suggests that congregations “demonstrate a new way of relating with the “other” in our communities, that embodies a hopeful perspective for future life in the world. We know the only way forward for humanity is to transform.”
Growing up in the small town of Madison, IL I didn’t realize then that we were sort of a melting pot of cultures and diverse people. I learned that it was a city of very different cultures, mostly Polish, Croatian, Macedonian, Russian, Mexican, and some African Americans, with a few of us Irish kids thrown in for good measure! It seemed there was a different kind of cultural church on almost every corner, along with local taverns. But growing up there none of that mattered. The kids all played together at the local park where our behaviors and our attitudes were of acceptance and tolerance, though we didn’t name it back in the day. We just learned to get along and to stick up for one another. Prejudice and racism, if they were present, certainly wasn’t obvious to this little girl until much later in my life.
I was called to the principal’s office in my Catholic all girls high school and asked if I would befriend this African American girl in my class. The Sister principal asked if I would be willing to “stick my neck out” and become her friend. I said “Yes” of course, because you didn’t tell your principal “No” back in those days either! I never really knew why I was selected for the task, but I was glad, because that girl became a really good friend. We lost touch after high school, but I often think about her. It was a little thing to do, an easy thing.
Embracing cultural diversity is so needed in our country and in our world today. Even a television show I watch, FBI, began its new season with an episode about the Muslim community. It had some profound lessons in it, too. Maybe we just need to see the larger canvas with all its historical, cultural diversity as a wonderful gift and begin by “sticking our neck out” for someone who’s a little different from us…maybe only on the outside, not within. Let’s take a small step and find a way to embrace the challenge.
Barbara McMullen, CDP