WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Van Nam Kim is the author of the just-published Multicultural Theology and New Evangelization.
Christians need to embrace multiculturalism in order to evangelize, says Father Van Nam Kim.
"Recognizing the multicultural reality of the Church and society is essential for successful evangelization," says the St. Joseph Seminary professor. "All members of the Church are called to be more receptive to multiculturalism."
Kim is the author of the book Multicultural Theology and New Evangelization, which sheds light on the central role of multiculturalism in the Church in the third millennium. His previous work includes A Church of Hope, released in 2005.
Kim says the purpose of his new book is to discuss how to fulfill evangelization in a multicultural society. That's necessary because "under the impact of globalization each local community of the Church has become multicultural."
In an interview, he said priests need to become multicultural in order to collaborate well with their peers and to serve their flocks more effectively.
Kim is a Vietnamese-American who has lived in Australia, Europe and North America at various times since 1981. He was ordained in 1990 and has served in several multicultural parishes and seminaries. He joined the formation team at the Edmonton seminary two years ago.
"I have been serving with people from different countries and different backgrounds and I see the need for collaboration among people, especially in local churches," the theologian said in a recent interview.
"That's why I wrote this book. I want to help people understand from a theological perspective the foundation of a multicultural Church."
Kim said Jesus Christ was a multicultural person who lived and worked in a society made up of people from various countries, including Palestine, Mesopotamia, Samaria and even Europe. "Jesus accepted all of them who came from different cultures."
We ought to do the same because "people of different cultures and gifts contribute to the richness of the Church."
Key sections in the book are those dealing with priests, including international priests and the formation of seminarians.
With globalization, people are motivated to migrate from one country to another, which results in the presence of many immigrants in many parishes.
"Therefore, parish priests need to pay attention to immigrants who often feel alone in the community."
In fact, Kim maintains that pastoral care and the evangelical effort will be more fruitful if parish priests learn the languages of their parishioners.
A priest, he says, should be able to speak at least two languages, which would help him them develop a "flexible spirit."
"For the fruitful implementation of the new evangelization, priests need to be equipped with bilingual and multicultural capability."
In the book, Kim laments that many U.S. seminaries have not made Spanish mandatory, which has led to a shortage of priests able to serve Spanish-speaking parishes. He observes that in 2050, in California, migrants will be the majority.
"Bishops and priests need to encourage their seminarians to learn Spanish or another language so that they may be ready to serve all people of their future parishes," he says.
"Today it is reasonable to say that monolingual priests are not as effective in serving multicultural communities as those who are bilingual or multilingual."
Kim speaks several languages, including French, English and Spanish, and served Spanish-speaking communities in El Paso and San Francisco before coming to Edmonton.
Seminarians, he writes, need exposure to the many cultures and languages that belong to the Church. "They should know how to welcome migrants and refugees pastorally, liturgically and culturally."
Simultaneously, they should assist newcomers to adapt themselves in the mainstream without each one losing their own identity.
International seminarians need to be given special attention. "Native-born American (and Canadian) students must reach out to immigrant seminarians and this is a pastoral, theological and biblical obligation," contends Kim. "In the same way, immigrant seminarians must mingle with native North American seminarians."
Kim says immigrant seminarians have a twofold goal: learn the new language and culture while preserving their mother language and traditional values.
Inculturation programs are indispensable for international seminarians; however, these programs cannot aim at assimilation, stresses Kim. "The best inculturation option for them is acculturation, with which they learn positive aspects of other cultures while retaining their own cultures."