We just moved to a new community, which has been a big change for all of us. The biggest change is at church, which is virtually an all-white parish – and we are not. How do we help our children feel “at home”? Or would it be better to look for a more ethnically diverse parish?
In 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) to investigate cultural diversity in U.S. Catholic churches. CARA’s detailed analysis indicated that multicultural parishes are more likely to be found in the West (32%) and South (32%), with fewer found in the Northeast (19%) and Midwest (17%). Ethnic subgroups vary geographically as well. A move to a different region of the country may change the availability of parishes serving specific racial/ethnic communities. But there are ways to help your children adjust to the change.
Helping young children adjust to your new community. Fellow parishioners can be a welcoming resource, allowing you to find out more about the local community. If your children are toddlers or preschoolers, then your parish may have a co-op nursery. See if there is an active parent play group. Talk to the parish staff about different opportunities to engage with other parents. Some parishes have coffee and donuts after morning Masses; this informal setting can help you meet other parents with children of the same age. Perhaps you will find families who share mutual interests, and friendships may develop.
Are your children attending the parish school? When the parish has a school, then children build friendships with classmates. Many schools recruit parents to be playground, classroom or lunchtime volunteers. Use these opportunities to reach out and build relationships with other parents. Find out which Masses families with children frequently attend. Initiate after-church brunches or other activities. As your family grows closer to other parish families, your children will feel more and more at home.
The pope’s call for diversity. Last September, in his speech at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York City, Pope Francis said, “For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity.” Building this unity based on diversity is a call to Catholics across our country and throughout the world.
When a family moves, there are numerous challenges including the expectations of new neighbors, new school policies and new workplace practices. These lead to changes in behavior which are incorporated into the family system. Scripture forms the foundation for the response of the parish toward your family as you become members of the church community: “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom 15:7)