Teresa Rojo Tsosie is the director of religious education at St. Jude Parish in Tuba City, Ariz. CNS photo/courtesy Teresa Rojo Tsosie, via Christina Knauss

Diverse cultures have voice with Journeying Together

  • July 28, 2021

Teresa Rojo Tsosie’s Catholic faith is one of the most important parts of her life, but she has often felt that as a Native American Catholic, her voice wasn’t being considered or heard by the Church as a whole.

Tsosie, who works for St. Jude Catholic Church in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation in the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, finally found a place to discuss that feeling. She was one of the participants in Journeying Together, a national dialogue on diversity and faith among Catholic young adults organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.

The year-long program has given young adults from every major cultural group in the U.S. the chance to gather online to discuss issues and challenges facing their communities, as well as the way their cultures influence their faith.

A discussion earlier this summer led by Native American Catholics couldn’t have come at a better time given recent news out of Canada, according to Tsosie and Maka Black Elk, a member of the Lakota Nation who works as vice principal at Red Cloud Catholic School on the Lakota Nation, in the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D.

Black Elk said among other topics, the online dialogue addressed news from Canada about the mass graves being found near residential schools that were once run by the Catholic Church.

Similar residential schools were set up in the U.S., and Native students who attended were often forbidden from speaking their language and practising their culture.

Black Elk said it’s a subject of ongoing discussion at the school where he works — how to reconcile the wrongs done in the past in the name of the Church with the work of spreading the Gospel today.

“For communities that have been historically marginalized, it’s important to recognize that the Church hasn’t always been there,” Black Elk told CNS. “It’s OK to acknowledge that and more importantly to start taking an active role in dismantling racial injustice as a church. I think young people are more aware of that and really ready to do that work.

“This is a real timely moment for us to have this discussion because of the news about the residential schools,” he continued. “There’s a real reckoning going on now and it’s important the Church not shy away from that dialogue. This is an important moment for Indigenous people in the Church and the Journeying Together discussions are a part of it.”

Several participants in the program’s monthly online discussions said it was the first time they had been able to have such discussions with other Catholics who share their cultures, as well as people from different cultural backgrounds.

“I am very blessed with my faith, but I have felt that the Catholic Church spent so much time evangelizing Native Americans in the past, and then once it happened we never were brought up again,” Tsosie told Catholic News Service.

“For me, it’s been a struggle just being heard and recognized, and I think we have really started something with Journeying Together by just being able to talk freely,” she said. “I hope we don’t lose this momentum.”

The Journeying Together process enabled the young adults to confront difficult issues that affect them, society as a whole and the Catholic Church.

The online meetings started during the summer of 2020, when racial injustice was the hot topic nationwide as protests rocked many cities over the death of George Floyd.

Participants said discussions among African American Catholics gave the young adults a chance to share their perspectives and life experiences among themselves.

Later sessions that combined members of different cultural communities gave European American young adults the chance to learn about the impact of racism in the daily lives of their fellow Catholics.

Many people who took part said the opportunity to talk to their peers from a variety of communities was an eye-opening experience that exposed them to the true richness of the faith in the United States.

“A significant strength about this process is that it’s put young adults from a wide variety of backgrounds into intentional conversations with one another,” said Ashley Morris, director for Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “Young adults want to be connected to other young adults. We want the faith to help us make sense of the experiences we see daily.”

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