By Tom Holmes
Multicultural is often hard
Yesterday I interviewed Fr. George Velloorattil, the pastor of St. Bernardine Catholic Church in Forest Park. He talked about the difficulties of serving in a culture different from the one in which he grew up.
He kept on repeating, "It's hard." One difference he mentioned is that in India, people seem to have more reverence for the sacred. When they enter a church, or another house of worship for that matter, they are aware that they are entering a sacred space. He said that in contrast, many Americans act like they are in the park when they enter a place of worship.
Another difference, he noted, is in respect for authority. Respect for older people with experience is much greater in India than here, he said. Finally, he said that Indians seem to have a higher or stricter moral code than do Americans. From his point of view, it looks like Americans feel free to do anything they want, short of infringing on the rights of the neighbor.
"It's hard," he kept repeating about how difficult it is for someone from another culture to try to fit into American culture. That reminded me of many experiences in my congregation, which is mainly Thai. Often I will see older Thais shaking their heads as they bump against American values. The tension increases when parents have grown up in an Asian or African culture and their children are growing up here. The adults are more Asian or African in their mindset while the children are more American.
For me, it was a window of understanding regarding the missionary experience. Fr. George is in a real sense a missionary to the United States where the Catholic Church has a shortage of ordained priests. He is filling a need, but in so doing he is experiencing the inevitable discomfort of not being home.
I found myself admiring the man and having increased empathy for him, even though I may disagree with some aspects of his leadership style. After all, I'm from America and he's from India. Then again, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, shouldn't we be able to bridge the multicultural gap at least as well as we've made peace with the opposite sex?