“Our globalized world increasingly brings together people of many different cultures, though not always harmoniously. In recent decades, multinational companies have sought more efficient strategies for authentic intercultural collaboration. But in today’s multicultural world-church, faith communities too are faced with the challenge of intercultural living. The social sciences have developed some constructive approaches, but people of faith also need to build their endeavours on a sound biblical and theological foundation… Good will alone is not enough to effect change. Intercultural living needs to be underpinned by faith, virtue, and a range of new and appropriate skills.” Notes from Fr. Antony Gittins, CSSp.
From January 23rd to 31st 2018, we, the four MSOLA Leadership team and one of our Brothers from the M.Afr. had the privilege to participate in a nine days’ workshop organized by the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries on “intercultural living”.
We had time for personal reflection followed by enriching group sharing. As we were looking at how our cultures leave important impressions and marks on each of us, we realized how they have a great bearing on our life together as a people with a common goal animated by the passion for Christ and the passion for humanity.
Different presentations and a number of exercises inspired us to rediscover our own cultural iceberg. This led us once again to identify, appreciate and challenge our own culturally inherent beliefs. This is one of the learning tools on how to respect and become sensitive to the other culture without feeling threatened!
In our two Institutes, belonging to an international/intercultural community is part of our heritage. We recall with a grateful heart that, from the very beginning, Cardinal Lavigerie saw the need for our communities to be international, so that in this way the missionaries would in themselves bear witness to the unconditional love of God for all people, rather than becoming explorers! Likewise, in the many letters of Marie Salome to her Sisters who were ‘in the mission’, we note advice and instructions on how to lead a deep communal life in the Spirit of Jesus the Christ before going out and proclaiming who He is. For these two founders and for us today this implies that living in community as understood in the context plays a spiritual and functional role in our Institutes.
Aware of our roots, we are animated by the values of the Gospel and persistently urged to move on and respond to the needs of our modern time with a prayerful heart, the teaching of the Church and the reading and interpretation of the signs of our time. The cries and the yearnings of the human family and of our Mother Earth are loud and urgent: they call for care, tenderness, solidarity, community, respect, compassion, reconciliation, relationship, communication, and the list continues…
In the year dedicated to Consecrated Life, Pope Francis challenged us to be ‘experts in communion’.
We come from varied cultural backgrounds and deep belief systems, but as Religious we are supposed to be experts in communion, and trying to live deep values, we are aware that this is not always automatic. In our life together, we have sometimes experienced moments when we felt that honouring difference could be irritating. We constantly need to turn to God who continually calls us out of ourselves and forms us into becoming one body. This bonding with him and with one another enables us to enter into Christ’s mission.
We are called also to learn from different schools how to appreciate the dynamics of our differences and be inspired and energized so that as a community we live up to the values of the Gospel and of the Kingdom, already present and yet to come.
With some further exercises and in our group sharing we touched the marks that we carry from our culture of origin/sub-culture and discovered in how far they constructively or harmfully influence our life together as a community. These can be detected in our behaviour, attitudes and ways of being. Some of the questions were:
How has my culture :
- fashioned the image of God I have, and the way I pray?
- influenced our styles of leadership? (It depends on the perception of who holds power)
- had an effect on my perception of my body?
- Do I have a body or am I a body? The difference changes the way I understand the incarnation, the way I perceive and protect my body, take care of it, dress, move, pray, etc.
- had an impact in my relation to space and self-expression? (This depends on whether I grew up in an open or closed environment)
In another experience during the workshop, we learned that there are different stages of growth in our reactions when we face cultural differences. It is a long process indeed from:
by denial, defence
Experience has shown that once one has progressed towards an ethno-relativistic view, one will be able to rejoice in and celebrate cultural differences and take on subtle characteristics from cultures different from one’s own.
Our speakers left us with some challenging homework: to faithfully live, work and pray together in community, by actively getting to know each other, developing respect for our cultural differences and enriching our lives by what we have learned.
We look forward to greater and further exchange on the fruits of this workshop through retreats and short sessions, which will help us deepen our knowledge and capacity for living in intercultural communities. We hope that this will also bear fruit in our mission.
Juliana Karomba, MSOLA