SVDP handbook helps Catholics understand diversity, multicultural issues within church

SVDP coverIt’s easy to see that the U.S. Catholic Church is becoming much more diverse.

Recognizing that diversity, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has developed a handbook to help its individual conferences — and even other Catholic groups — to better understand the multicultural face of God.

“More and more we’re encountering a diverse people, trying to understand where they’re coming from,” said Ray Sickinger, who coordinated the nearly three-year-long effort to develop the handbook.

Titled “A Vincentian Guide to Diversity/Multicultural Issues,” the handbook offers 12 sessions for groups to reflect on how God is represented by the diverse people that make up American society and how to better respond to their needs. Individual sessions address specific groups of people: Native Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, European Americans, African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, migrants, refugees and travelers, and homosexuals.

Each session opens and closes with prayer. Some include Scripture references. Reflection time is built in as well. Most of all, they offer food for thought on the people of God’s earthly creation based on Vincentian ideals.

Sickinger, professor of history at Providence College who is on sabbatical to write a book on Blessed Frederic Ozanam, the society’s founder, told Catholic News Service that the needs of poor people are the same across the country, but that often society members are unsure of how to approach people who are culturally different.

Margarita Galindo, a society member from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in San Ysidro, Calif., along the Mexican border and second vice president for Hispanic/Latino involvement at the national level, said “the book was necessary for the world’s changing conditions.”

“Everywhere you can find diverse people around you. Sometimes we are not aware of that and we don’t know how to conduct ourselves with different people,” said Galindo, who is from nearby Tijuana, Mexico.

“We wanted something to show how we can relate to others without confrontation and misunderstanding.”

Galindo illustrates the society’s growing diversity. She was part of the group’s Ad Hoc Committee of Diversity/Multicultural Issues and Initiatives. The committee included a native Jamaican, a Native American, African-Americans and clergy.

“We wanted to really have something developed that comes from the membership itself, that comes from people with diverse backgrounds, who are not just assuming things, but who really doing a fine job serving others,” Sickinger explained.

The handbook is part of several ongoing initiatives society leaders have undertaken to strengthen the organization. Much of the work focuses on recruiting new members, moving beyond providing simple charity to helping people escape poverty and advocating for poor people.

“We have tried to, and begun to, succeed in reinvigorating our own society,” Sickinger said.

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