Interculturality: Looking Below the Surface


The image of an iceberg is often used to illustrate how much of cultures, contexts, and life situations are below the surface—that is, about 90%. Sincere attempts to acknowledge, understand, appreciate and bridge the differences among nationalities, ethnicities, “races”, generations, genders, personalities, and economic/social classes requires looking under the “water level.” That area can seem to be unclear, overly complex, and even contradictory at first, whether we are looking at our own “world,” but especially when plunging into the depths of the “world” of the “other.” And yet as Catholics and as missionaries, we believe that God’s grace and life can be discovered “in the depths” of those “worlds” of meaning, order and identity.

The second workshop for training resource persons in interculturality—held in Nemi over January 10-23, 2016—attempted to go further “below the surface.”Almost all of the participants had attended the first workshop in Nemi last year and then conducted a variety of programs and activities around the theme of interculturality in local communities/districts, provinces/regions/missions, and zones/sub-zones (total of 75 reports and/or files).Building upon their practical experience throughout 2015 and the relationships of collaboration that had been formed during thefirst workshop, the participants in the second workshop were ready to look deeper at the underlying issues and dynamics of intercultural life and mission.

Challenges of Interculturality
Striving for true interculturality--mutually enriching (and challenging) interactions and relationships among individuals and groups from different backgrounds—is a wonderful ideal, founded on the biblical image of the Body of Christ, the theological idea of the trinity, and our SVD/SSpS vision of fellowship and communion, ad intra and ad extra. But we all know that various degrees of misunderstanding, division, prejudice, and tension are obstacles to this ideal. This was true for the early Christian communities, as the Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians of Israel (“Hebrews”) and the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians of the diaspora (“Hellenists”) had to deal with the unjust distribution of food to widows in their community in Jerusalem, due to their social and linguistic differences (Acts 6:1-6).

Conflict Resolution
Sr. Maureen McBride, a former congregational leader of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (RNDM), dealt with conflict resolution during the 2016 Nemi workshop. The many issues she treated included contrasts between socio-centric and individual-centric societies and tensions due to language and generation differences. The participants were able to tread “into the deep” for example with inter-gender issues and power dynamics, in general. Regarding the latter, how difficult, and yet necessary, it is for us often to name the impact of the power differential among different nationalities and cultures around voting, leadership, finances, and decision-making.

Fr. Robert Schreiter, a prestigious author and member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood (CPPS), presented on the topic of reconciliation. His in-depth treatment of the Christian understanding, practice, and spirituality of reconciliation opened up many issues. For example, how do we acknowledge and strive to heal individual, communal, and social “wounds” and memories, for example those caused by the experience of being misunderstood, stereotyped, and mistreated, ad intra and/or ad extra, due to one’s race, caste, or nationality? Addressing this may require creating “safe places” for those in initial and on-going formation to share these stories which seriously affect their interactions with and perceptions of others. Schreiter also described the complex process of forgiveness and the role of contemplative prayer since God is the author of any intercultural reconciliation. Other presentations were given on trauma healing by Sr. Mercy Benson, a Ghanaian SSpS who worked in Southern Sudan, and on culture drama by Fr. Jon Kirby, SVD, who worked for many years in Africa and now in the USA.

Personality and Culture
Fr. Ronald Pereira, an Indian SVD psychologist, addressed the topic of personality and culture during the Nemi workshop.We all are aware that often personality issues are at play within community and work-related interactions and conflicts. Within a small local community with two to five confreres of different nationalities, the personality differences can be more prominent than the cultural ones, whereas in a larger community, a district, or a province with larger cultural groups, the challenges may often be more related to cultural dynamics than to personalities.

Spirituality of Interculturality
In the week preceding the Nemi workshop, several members of the Resource Committee on Intercultuality (RCI) worked with the four members of the Arnold Janssen Spirituality Center (AJSC) in developing an outline for retreat on the spirituality of interculturality, building upon the core elements of our missionary charism. First of all, the Triune God continues to lavish loving grace upon us who are gathered together from various peoples and enriched by the “holy ground” of our changing contexts. At the same time, we are called to an on-going process of “conversion” from all forms of ethnocentrism that hinder us from recognizing all people as our sisters and brothers. Secondly, we strive in a particular way to follow Jesus Christ through vowed discipleship in religious life, which embodies a commitment to the Reign of God and table fellowship (interculturality) with all. Finally, we are to discern with the Spirit how to cross borders in our real-life situations (through interculturality) so that we “become a living symbol of the unity and diversity of the church” (Prologue, SVD and SSpS Constitutions). Some 2016 workshop participants (and other SSpS) are now elaborating on various modules of this spirituality material which are to be refined by the AJSC for use and adaptation for various venues of retreats and days of recollection.

Looking “Below the Surface”
This retreat on interculturality represents an excellent development of the Arnoldus Family Spirituality and a contribution toward the theme of the upcoming 2018 General Chapter “to foster a process of a spiritual rekindling, bringing us back to the Word of God as the source of our life, vocation, and mission and our religious missionary commitment” (Fr. General’s Circular Letter, January 26, 2016). It also represents the efforts of the participants of the second intercultural workshop to plunge deeper “below the surface” to the underlying dynamics and issues of interculturality with its opportunities and challenges. May all of us join this ongoing effort to bring together our “heads”, “hearts”, and “hands” to truly “become a living symbol of the unity and diversity” of God’s people.

Fr. Heinz Kulüke and the Leadership Team of the Divine Word Missionaries