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With over one-third of U.S. parishes identified as multicultural, 25 percent of newly ordained priests born in other nations, and 10,000 international religious ministering or studying in the U.S. (CARA), diversity enriches and challenges pastoral ministry.
Successful ministry in this diverse environment calls for acculturation – adaptation to a new culture through the adoption of values and customs while retaining elements of one’s own culture. Individuals who struggle with acculturation often have difficulty transitioning to a new environment and establishing healthy interpersonal connections. They may be at risk for developing depression and anxiety, and their new communities may be impacted.
Their transition can be smoother when the receiving community has an understanding of identity development, what influences identity, and the way cultural identity is formed.
Identity is the qualities, personality, beliefs and expressions that make up a person or group. A person’s identity is composed of diverse aspects: gender, sexuality, ethnicity/race, spirituality and abilities/disabilities. These fit within a particular cultural framework, a set of traditions of thought and behavior that are passed down socially from generation to generation.
Identity is closely connected to self-esteem and interpersonal perception. It develops over a lifetime and is affected by life circumstances. Three identities important for international ministry are:
The filter through which we experience the world and perceive our interactions with others occurs at the intersection where the multiple aspects of our identity (i.e., gender, ethnicity, etc.) meet. Attempting to separate different aspects of another person’s identity, such as race vs. gender, can limit our understanding of ourselves and others.
This intersectionality is important to understand in a multi-cultural environment (in which different cultures or cultural identities are preserved within a unified society) since every individual has his or her own cultural and societal experiences and norms.
Building an awareness of one’s own cultural filters, trying to see others through their filters, showing empathy for differences, and understanding the inherent biases and privileges of a majority group are necessary.
Simple strategies can help ease the transition for international priests and religious ministering in the U.S.
Prior to Placement
Review prior psychological assessments or have an assessment completed prior to ministry placement.
Initial Transition (Year 1)
If a Problem Arises
Crystal Taylor-Dietz, Psy.D., is director of Caritas Counseling Center of Saint Luke Institute. She recently presented a webinar on this topic and is a speaker at the April 2018 conference, “Intercultural Competencies for Human Formation.”
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