The Department of Social Concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud hosts a gathering every year for parish social ministry teams and others who are interested in social ministry.
This year, the gathering was held Oct. 8 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Richmond. The theme for the day was “Building deep understanding in the Year of Mercy.”
Kathy Langer, director of social concerns, said the goal is to “provide a prayer and educational experience that we hope will inspire and equip them to do the work of making Catholic social teaching come alive in their parishes.”
“I have seen that when people are willing to really listen to people from other cultures and belief systems with the ‘ear of their hearts,’ deep understanding and compassion grows,” Langer said. “This seemed to be a perfect theme for the Year of Mercy and right in line with what Pope Francis is doing and is asking of us.”
In an opening experience with Bishop Donald Kettler, participants joined in song, Scripture reading, reflection and prayer.
“One of the most important things for our parishes is to initiate, to develop and to grow social concerns committees,” Bishop Kettler said. “It is so important to have a group of people who speak up in their parishes, to their councils, to the pastors. We need to be people of mercy, people of concern, people who want to be united with our brothers and sisters.”
After a reading from the Gospel of Luke, participants created a symbolic “wine skin.” Each person came forward, tying together multi-colored strips of fabric.
“We are challenged by the Gospel and by Pope Francis to develop our compassion, our mercy,” Langer explained.
“And [to receive] new information, we need to open ourselves up. You can’t put new wine into old wine skins.”
Compassion is key
Roxanne DeLille, a professor of American Indian Studies at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota, built on that shared experience, explaining what it means to have deep understanding or compassion in her culture.
“My purpose today is to talk about a word,” said
DeLille, who is an Anishinabe woman from Bad River, Wisconsin. “In my language, it is ‘zhawenaahaa.’ In a short statement, it means ‘pity, pity and prayer.’ It means to ask the Creator to have pity on us. Underneath that, it’s about compassion. In order to be totally compassionate with another you must have a deep understanding. This doesn’t mean you have to agree. Our goal is to get to a place of deep understanding.”
DeLille refers to this process as “cultural humility.” The first component, she said, is uncertainty — to “challenge your own filters, be aware of your stereotypes.”
“I don’t think we can ever be fully culturally competent in working across cultures. I think what we can get is humble — humble enough to recognize that [we] may not know something,” she said.
Additional components of cultural humility include developing curiosity, to be willing to seek out knowledge and ask appropriate questions, and participating in opportunities to learn about cultural differences.
“I challenge you to think about the kind of skills that it takes for you to be able to work and interact with any peoples,” DeLille said. “You have to start with uncertainty. Don’t come in thinking you know. It’s OK to say you don’t know. You have to be curious and you have to care. You have to genuinely want to know. Relationships are your best friend. You have to get to know the person, to extend your good and kind heart. That’s the best that we can do.”
Later in the day, Jama Alimad, a Somali elder from St. Cloud and his daughter, Ekram Ayanle, also talked about “naxariis,” the Somali word for deep understanding.
Alimad, who has lived in the St. Cloud community since the early 1990s, has worked with Langer to build bridges of peace between Somali-Muslims and the wider community. Ayanle was born and raised in Minnesota and currently attends St. Cloud Technical and Community College.
“People solve their differences by talking to each other,” Alimad said in an interview with The Visitor.
“Understanding is human nature. If you talk to another human being you will understand, you will have a shared concept. That is what connects people everyplace, everywhere. Communication is the key.
“If we talk about our differences in a deep and meaningful way, we can create a feeling of harmonious deep understanding,” he said. “When there is division, there is less communication. With less communication, there can be no understanding. Deep understanding is what connects community, it’s what makes us a community.”
Rhonda Dingmann, who serves as pastoral assistant and youth ministry coordinator and works with the social ministry team for the parishes of Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond and St. Martin in St. Martin, helped organize the event.
Their social ministry team, called Justice and Charity, formed about two years ago and began working with the diocese’s Rural Life Initiative in January with Joanne Braegelmann, the rural life coordinator for the western region of the diocese.
One of the things Dingmann appreciated was that the idea of cultural humility pertains not only to those from other cultures, but also to those within our own culture.
“Cultural humility emphasized that we all have differences, even in our own communities or groups, and we really do have to acknowledge that we might have different values,” Dingmann said. “For us as a parish, as we are in the process of creating goals for our parish cluster, this is important for us to learn how we can identify the uniqueness of others and to be a truly welcoming place for all.”
Bishop Kettler encouraged attendees to “keep in mind what they can bring back to their parishes and communities.”
Vince and Dianne DeVargas, members of St. Joseph Parish in St. Joseph, attended the gathering. Vince serves on the parish council and Dianne is involved in the initial phase of implementing a social ministry team in their parish.
“I want to learn more about social justice,” Dianne said. “There seems to be some confusion about what that means.
It’s not just going out there and giving your clothes to people. It’s about people’s rights. We need to be more involved with the city council to understand what our community is working toward, to understand that it involves everybody and benefits everybody.”
She was touched by the historical information DeLille provided about Native Americans and about cultural humility.
“She instilled in me that we can’t just walk by issues or people,” she said. “Social action by its very name doesn’t mean sitting back and reading the newspaper or watching on TV and saying, ‘Oh dear. That’s too bad.’ It’s actually doing something about it.”