Multicultural Ministry in Northwest Ohio
Friar John Stowe, OFM Conv.
Having spent the first fifteen years of my priesthood along the U.S.- Mexico border, I have a particular awareness of the American church’s history as a church of immigrants.
Generation after generation of Catholics from foreign lands have come to the United States to experience the American dream and brought the cultural expressions of their faith with them. Many of these ethnic groups rapidly assimilate into the mainstream of American culture, and sometimes their Catholicism is a casualty of that assimilation. Others preserve their traditions and culture even as they ensure that their children learn and speak English, serve in the U.S. military, and contribute in every way to the well-being of our nation. Catholics from Ireland, southern and eastern Europe came to this country in great waves and established a church which simultaneously allowed them to connect to their homeland in the preservation of culture and tradition and assimilate to American culture through education and work.
When I returned to my home state of Ohio after our Chapter last year to begin ministry at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, I realized that I would miss the rich history and culture of the border region. But I also came with a great respect and understanding of the immigrant’s faith expressions which flourish at this shrine. In 1875, the diocesan priest Father Joseph Gloden came to what was called Saint Edward’s Church in Carey, Ohio and found a small Catholic community struggling to survive. He convinced those who were born in Luxembourg like himself, to entrust their parish community to the Patron Saint of Luxembourg, Our Lady of Consolation. He stirred up plenty of enthusiasm to bring a statue of Our Lady just like the one in the cathedral in their homeland, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation became a spiritual home to many more than the natives of Luxembourg. Over the years, the shrine has welcomed Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Lebanese, Syrian, Slovaks, and other European immigrants on pilgrimages and has offered services in their languages. In recent decades, the greatest numbers of pilgrims are Chaldean Catholics whose homeland is in Iraq; Albanians, Filipinos, Indians, Hispanics and the Vietnamese now come for celebrations of faith and their culture and they enrich the Church by doing so.
Whenever I have the opportunity to celebrate mass in Spanish, at the Shrine or in neighboring parishes, I am energized by the enthusiasm and deep faith of those who come. I was deeply touched by people who couldn’t wait to tell me how good it was to celebrate mass in their native language, as well as to confess their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. I remembered my Italian grandmother, who was fluent in English but would never miss a chance to pray or attend mass in her native tongue.
Our church is enriched by immigrants. The U.S. church is truly Catholic, i.e. universal, because everyone has a home with us.