April 25, 2019
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DR#: 14 Inculturation: Adaptation of the Apostle/Apostolate in Culturally Different Milieu


Beginning with their first mission from France to the United States in 1847, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart have extended their educational apostolate beyond the borders of their native countries, linking their charism with the command of Jesus: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (MT 28:19-20)

Despite the clarity of the command, however, the difficulty of entering a culture that is radically different from one’s own all too often undermines the genuine good will and great efforts of the missionary. Cultural conditioning influences every aspect of life, from “personal space” and one’s sense of the flow of time to table etiquette and expectations for gender roles.

How do we enter another culture well, without being frustrated (or frustrating our hosts) when lived reality fails to meet our expectations? Still, the basic Christian dogma of the Incarnation means that the divine is to be encountered precisely in local culture. The Council of Jerusalem (ca. AD 50) declared that the gospel is not to be identified with any one cultural container. The exploration, though, of how to develop genuinely inculturated local Christian communities while remaining in communion with the larger Church remains a continuing challenge.

Through this reading, the participant will:

  • understand the Church’s call to missionary action;
  • understand the Institute’s missionary spirit;
  • understand the importance of inculturation for apostolic success;
  • reflect on the experience of others in culturally different settings; and
  • reflect on your own personal openness and response to this call.
  • Ad Gentes: Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church
  • Rule of Life of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart
  • Reflection from Br. Paul Montero, SC, General Councilor
  • Interview with Br. John Hotstream, SC and Br. Chris Sweeney, SC
  • Reflections from Greg and Bonnie Rando on their summer 2009 trip to Malole, Zambia
Options for Additional Readings
  • Arbuckle, Gerald. Earthing the Gospel: An Inculturation Handbook for the Pastoral Worker.
  • Hall, Edward. The Silent Language.
  • Shorter, Aylward. Toward a Theology of Inculturation.
Suggestions for Journal Reflection
  1. In many ways, the experience of being in a different culture is like being a fish out of water. Describe an experience when you felt this way. What stereotypes do you hold regarding those in other cultures, especially those that are in materially poorer areas?
  2. What experiences have you had encountering people from drastically different cultures from your own? What challenges and blessings have you found in those encounters? What cultural barriers marked those experiences and what made genuine encounter possible despite those barriers?
  3. How have you stretched the boundaries of the culture of your school? How do you call forth your students and teachers to stretch their own boundaries, too?
  4. As a leader in Coindre’s charism, you are called to solidarity within the Institute at different levels – personally, communally, institutionally. To what extent are you willing to stretch like those first missionaries? What do you feel is your responsibility as a leader in this charism to stretch in this regard?

Lord, you sent your disciples into unfamiliar territory
      as a "team of apostles" (ROL 24).

You inspired Father Coindre and Brother Polycarp 
      to spread the love of the Sacred Heart 
      throughout the world.  

You continue to inspire people, religious and lay, 
      to step into other cultures, 
      despite the unsettling newness they face,
      confident that the ground on which they walk is holy.  

Enlighten us as we step into a culture that is strange to us: 
      challenge our presuppositions, 
      enable us to let go of our way of doing things, and
      teach us to forego rushing to judgment.  

Grant us the wisdom to be aware of our cultural biases 
      to respect the many cultural models, and
      to understand that other cultures are not failed attempts at being us, 
      but are in fact viable and holy ways of incarnating Your life in the world.



Reading 1: Selections from Ad Gentes: Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (1965)

The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father. (2)

"Missions" is the term usually given to those particular undertakings by which the heralds of the Gospel, sent out by the Church and going forth into the whole world, carry out the task of preaching the Gospel and planting the Church among peoples or groups who do not yet believe in Christ. These undertakings are brought to completion by missionary activity and are mostly exercised in certain territories recognized by the Holy See. The proper purpose of this missionary activity is evangelization, and the planting of the Church among those peoples and groups where it has not yet taken root. Thus from the seed which is the word of God, particular autochthonous churches should be sufficiently established and should grow up all over the world, endowed with their own maturity and vital forces. (6)

Let Christians labor and collaborate with others in rightly regulating the affairs of social and economic life. With special care, let them devote themselves to the education of children and young people by means of different kinds of schools, which should be considered not only as the most excellent means of forming and developing Christian youth, but also as a valuable public service, especially in the developing nations, working toward the uplifting of human dignity, and toward better living conditions. Furthermore, let them take part in the strivings of those peoples who, waging war on famine, ignorance, and disease, are struggling to better their way of life and to secure peace in the world. In this activity, the faithful should be eager to offer prudent aid to projects sponsored by public and private organizations, by governments, by various Christian communities, and even by non - Christian religions. (12)

However, the Church has no desire at all to intrude itself into the government of the earthly city. It claims no other authority than that of ministering to men with the help of God, in a spirit of charity and faithful service (cf. Matt. 20:26; 23:11). (12)

Closely united with men in their life and work, Christ's disciples hope to render to others true witness of Christ, and to work for their salvation, even where they are not able to announce Christ fully. (12)

This congregation of the faithful, endowed with the riches of its own nation's culture, should be deeply rooted in the people. Let families flourish which are imbued with the spirit of the Gospel and let them be assisted by good schools; let associations and groups be organized by means of which the lay apostolate will be able to permeate the whole of society with the spirit of the Gospel. (15)

Likewise worthy of praise are the ranks of men and women catechists, well deserving of missionary work to the nations. Imbued with the apostolic spirit, they labor much to make an outstanding and altogether necessary contribution to the spread of the Faith and of the Church. (17)

In our time, when there are so few clerics to preach the Gospel to such great numbers and to exercise the pastoral ministry, the position of catechists is of great importance. Therefore their training must be so accomplished and so adapted to advances on the cultural level that as reliable coworkers of the priestly order, they may perform their task well, though it be weighed down with new and greater burdens. (17)

There should therefore be an increase in the number of schools, both on the diocesan and on the regional levels, wherein future catechists may study Catholic doctrine, especially in the fields of Scripture and the liturgy, as well as catechetical method and pastoral practice; schools wherein they can develop in themselves a Christian character, and wherein they can devote themselves tirelessly to cultivating piety and sanctity of life. Moreover, conventions or courses should be held in which at certain times catechists could he refreshed in the disciplines and skills useful for their ministry and in which their spiritual life could be nourished and strengthened. In addition, for those who devote themselves entirely to this work, a decent standard of living should be provided, and social security, by paying them a just wage. (17)

The seed which is the word of God, watered by divine dew, sprouts from the good ground and draws from thence its moisture, which it transforms and assimilates into itself, and finally bears much fruit. In harmony with the economy of the Incarnation, the young churches, rooted in Christ and built up on the foundation of the Apostles, … borrow from the customs and traditions of their people, from their wisdom and their learning, from their arts and disciplines, all those things which can contribute to the glory of their Creator, or enhance the grace of their Savior, or dispose Christian life the way it should be. (22)

Thus it will be more clearly seen in what ways faith may seek for understanding, with due regard for the philosophy and wisdom of these peoples; it will be seen in what ways their customs, views on life, and social order, can be reconciled with the manner of living taught by divine revelation. From here the way will be opened to a more profound adaptation in the whole area of Christian life...and Christian life will be accommodated to the genius and the dispositions of each culture. Particular traditions, together with the peculiar patrimony of each family of nations, illumined by the light of the Gospel, can then be taken up into Catholic unity. Finally, the young particular churches, adorned with their own traditions, will have their own place in the ecclesiastical communion, saving always the primacy of Peter's See, which presides over the entire assembly of charity. (22)

For such an exalted task, the future missionary is to be prepared by a special spiritual and moral training. For he must have the spirit of initiative in beginning, as well as that of constancy in carrying through what he has begun; he must be persevering in difficulties, patient and strong of heart in bearing with solitude, fatigue, and fruitless labor. He will encounter men with an open mind and a wide heart; he will gladly take up the duties which are entrusted to him; he will with a noble spirit adapt himself to the people's foreign way of doing things and to changing circumstances; while in the spirit of harmony and mutual charity, he will cooperate with his brethren and all who dedicate themselves to the same task, so that together with the faithful, they will be one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 2:42; 4:32) in imitation of the apostolic community. (25)

Therefore, all missionaries - priests, Brothers, Sisters, and lay folk - each according to their own state, should be prepared and trained, lest they be found unequal to the demands of their future work. From the very beginning, their doctrinal training should be so planned that it takes in both the universality of the Church and the diversity of the world's nations. This holds for all of their studies by which they are prepared for the exercise of the ministry, as also for the other studies which it would be useful for them to learn, that they may have a general knowledge of the peoples, cultures, and religions; not only a knowledge that looks to the past, but one that considers the present time. For anyone who is going to encounter another people should have a great esteem for their patrimony and their language and their customs. It is very necessary for the future missionary to devote himself to missiological studies: that is, to know the teachings and norms of the Church concerning missionary activity, to know along what roads the heralds of the Gospel have run in the course of the centuries, and also what is the present condition of the missions, and what methods are considered more effective at the present time. (26)

Even those who take part in missionary activity only for a time have to be given a training which is suited to their condition. (26)

But in order that each and every one of the Christian faithful may he fully acquainted with the present condition of the Church in the world, and may hear the voice of the multitudes who cry "Help us!" (cf. Acts 16:9), modern means of social communication should be used to furnish such mission information that the faithful may feel this mission work to be their very own, and may open their hearts to such vast and profound human needs, and may come to their assistance. (36)

Institutes of the active life, whether they pursue a strictly mission ideal or not, should ask themselves sincerely in the presence of God, whether they would not be able to extend their activity for the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the nations; whether they could possibly leave certain ministries to others so that they themselves could expend their forces for the missions, whether they could possibly undertake activity in the missions, adapting their constitutions if necessary, but according to the spirit of their founder; whether their members are involved as totally as possible in the mission effort; and whether their type of life is a witness to the Gospel accommodated to the character and condition of the people. (40)

Worthy of special praise are those laymen who, in universities or in scientific institutes, promote by their historical and scientific religious research the knowledge of peoples and of religions; thus helping the heralds of the Gospel, and preparing for the dialogue with non - Christians. (41)

They should cooperate in a brotherly spirit with other Christians, with non - Christians, and with members of international organizations, always having before their eyes the fact that "the building up of the earthly city should have its foundation in the Lord, and should be directed towards Him." (41)

To be equal to all these tasks, laymen need the necessary technical and spiritual preparation, which should be given in institutes destined for this; so that their lives may be a witness for Christ among non – Christians. (41)

Reading 2: Selections from the Rule of Life of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart

153. Missionary Spirit
A missionary spirit urges us to help expand
the Church in countries
where Christianity is still young.
We try to spread the Good News
in language that can be understood.
Moreover, we realize that the simple presence
of a religious community
is already a sign
of the nature of the Christian vocation.
Cordial relations among brothers
of different ethnic and cultural origins
give eloquent witness to
the love which must unite all in Christ.

154. Missionary Life
In our adopted countries, we make every effort
to understand the work of education
in its cultural, pastoral, and social contexts.
This process of inculturation,
a work of love and self-emptying,
is never complete.
We help the people who welcome us
to acquire a formation
so that they themselves can provide
for the growth of their country
and their Church.

165. The brothers feel responsible for the missionary work of the Institute. Each brother expresses his concern by prayer, by contact with missionaries, by eagerness to help them, and even by offering to serve in any country to which the Church calls the Institute.

166. To foster genuine inculturation, the brothers chosen to serve in a foreign country are given a time for preparation which includes appropriate missiological studies.

Reading 3: Reflection from Br. Paul Montero, SC, General Councilor

When asked about how he prepared for his current role, which involves traveling all over the Institute around the world, Br. Paul said, “As I began my time as general councilor and prepared for my first visitations, I don't recall consciously "preparing myself" to enter into new and different cultures, in terms of making a list of ‘do's and don'ts.’ I do, however, remember praying that I would be open to whatever might come my way; that I would try to put into practice a sort of paraphrase of Br. Polycarp's words in his letter of invitation to his brothers to volunteer for the new mission in Mobile; namely, that they would be going there to discover the presence of God's love already there. I prayed to have the attitude of going to different entities to learn and not to teach; to affirm and support and not to negatively criticize nor find fault; to discover the richness and the diversity of different customs, cultures, cuisines, etc. rather than comparing those aspects with those of my country. I also prayed, however, for the courage and fraternal honesty to appropriately challenge my brothers if and when I judged it desirable to do so.”

Br. Paul adds, “In some cultures, the concept of ‘time,’ of being punctual in beginning or ending an activity, program or whatever, is different than in other cultures. Be prepared for delays, for unexpected and short-notice changes in itinerary. (Example: you planned to shower after breakfast rather than before; and at the end of breakfast your host announces that there has been a change in plans and you'll be leaving in five minutes for a visit with the local bishop or school authority.) Hang loose! Don't hang on to American ‘efficiency.’"

Switching gears to more quotidian matters, he adds, “Avoid verbal or facial reactions to foods that may be a bit out of your experience: caterpillars, live ants, balut (the 17-day incubated duck eggs), varied forms of seafood, etc. If you prefer not to experiment, simply say ‘No thank you, but I'll pass.’ On the other hand, don't be imprudently "polite" and eat or drink something that might cause intestinal problems, especially drinking water in remote areas or fresh fruit or vegetables that may or may not be properly washed. (I confess that I don't always follow this recommendation, eating and drinking just about everything that is placed before me. In fact, as I type this, I am aware that I possibly may be carrying amoebas within my system because of having drunk a glass of some type of refreshment in a remote village in the Amazon. I judged that I could not refuse the host's invitation to be the first to offer a toast to his young son who had just been baptized.)”

Reading 4 – Interview with Br. John Hotstream, SC and Br. Chris Sweeney, SC

Br. Patrick Cousins, SC: What lessons have you learned about working in another culture?

Br. John Hotstream, SC: Slow down the pace of life and enjoy the present moment – taking time to converse, “wasting time,” enjoying natural beauty.

Br. Chris Sweeney, SC: Take one day at a time, don’t have any expectations for what is going to happen – that will leave you frustrated.

BPC: Could you share a story illustrating the challenges or joys of working in another culture?

BJH: Learning about people comes at unexpected times, like giving hitchhikers a ride. You wouldn’t do that at home, but here most people are on foot, and they welcome the opportunity to talk about their lives. Feeling at times that you have really helped a person who is in a tough place and can’t get out by themselves. Last week we went to the home of a woman whose blood sugar was very low and who had no food. No one was around, and she could have gone into a diabetic coma.

BCS: It’s the unplanned encounters. We had one situation happen this summer [in Zambia]. We went to get supplies in Kasama, and there was a lady with her family on the side of the road. The lady was bringing her supply of corn to town, carrying it by herself, and it had to be 50-60 lbs, and she was carrying it on her head. We stopped, found out her name and situation, and gave her a ride. If we would not have stopped, she would have either walked all day or sat and waited for someone. The next few days, that was all we could talk about – selling that corn in town was the way that family was going to exist. Beautiful woman, so quiet, so gentle, but that encounter stirred our prayer for the next few days, just picking her up on the side of the road. I would even say that some people in our group were a little scared that I was even stopping – they were a little taken aback, because at home you don’t do that.

BJH: Yeah, out here there are no neighborhoods, no “gated communities”!

BPC: What do you find most difficult working with another culture?

BJH: Here it would be forming relationships. People are friendly but most are not friends. There’s that cultural…somehow, you’re still somewhat the stranger.

BPC: Even after all these years?

BJH: Even after all these years, yeah.

BCS: The hardest I find in Africa is that you’re the rich American no matter what. You could be dirt poor, but you’re still the rich American, and [they think] you can help them out. You can’t do everything, but there’s nothing you can say to tell them otherwise. The little things, you get used to – TV, electricity, running water – you get used to all that.

BJH: Most vehicles that pull up here, you know people are coming to ask for something, not just to visit or have a cup of coffee. It’s just part of the scene. I would have to add, witnessing the destruction of youth from drugs and alcohol, and being helpless to intervene.

BPC: What do you think people tend to do wrong when they enter into another culture?

BJH: To fix things. Take a problem and solve it. We come in with that attitude, and that’s strictly an American attitude. We come in and change these people – with programs, etc.

BPC: As opposed to?

BJH: As opposed to being with the people, living with the people. Being here.

BCS: Just constantly comparing one culture to the next. I guess it’s natural, but in making comparisons you start making judgments, and that can be really damaging.

BJH: You form cliques in your own group.

BPC: What do you think is the right way to approach short-term visits?

BJH: Immerse them with the people. So, the work projects are more of a means than end, because the goal is to meet the people. Like Amelia said, you bring gifts to us and we bring gifts to you.

BPC: What gifts do you think the people out here bring?

BJH: Simplicity, awareness, focus. Enjoying “now.” Humor, laughter. Their spirituality – they want connectedness with Mother Earth.

BCS: One thing I’ve found happens in Africa is that you can be walking down the road, see a group of women, and if you greet them the way they greet each other, they will go nuts – they stop, talk to you, it’s such a different interaction – to be able to greet someone in the proper way, in their way. It’s not just a wave, it’s actually stopping and talking. This is my fourth year [going to Zambia], and I really learned that this summer.

BPC: So they appreciate you stepping into their culture and trying to greet them their way?

BCS: Yeah.

BPC: What kind of things do people need to learn before they leave home?

BJH: Leave all the gadgets. The IPods, all that stuff. You can bring your culture with you as a way of walling out the other culture. You always do bring your culture with you, but the gadgets can wall out the Other.

BCS: I would say that, and simplify yourself. Don’t bring as much as you think you need. Learn a little bit of the language, learn the greetings before you go. And I think that the people that I have been bringing lately, I’ve tried to share my experiences, there may not be electricity, there may not be running water, and they have told me that they appreciate knowing that going in, because it’s a shock. And as Brothers in a community, we’re used to living in community, whereas lay people may not be. Even if they are a couple, they’re used to doing their own thing. We’ll be traveling together, working together, and they have to learn community dynamics – learn to pitch in. It’s a challenge.

BJH: That’s one of the gifts they receive on the trip – the experience of community. But it’s a real challenge. It’s like the early Christian community – you share your gifts together, you pray together, you make the place better together.

BCS: Yeah, you’re with the same group for 3 or 4 weeks, and you get to know each other pretty quickly. It’s not always a good thing (chuckles). That was the advantage for a lot of years of having groups drive out here [Klagetoh], but now most groups fly.

BJH: The cultural guards we use to protect ourselves disappear pretty quickly. The closeness, you reveal things about yourself you probably wouldn’t back home.

BCS: Yeah, you can hide back home. You can’t hide out here.

BPC: Any other comments about the experience of working in another culture?

BJH: It reforms you. It may be your real formation. You realize there are other ideas than your own, different ways of doing things other than your own, and you just discover things in yourself you didn’t know existed, personal gifts that may have been buried may tend to be realized.

BCS: On a spiritual level, the fact that prayer comes so easily to people, and the expectation that you have to spend time in that setting sharing that with the group, because that can become one of the best experiences of the trip. You do really have to spend time processing in a group. I always tell the people in our groups to expect a good 2-hour mass, and they cringe, but it becomes one of the best experiences.

BJH: That’s what they say about the Mass here. I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary, but something breaks through for them.

BCS: It’s noticeable that the people participate in the Mass. Especially in Africa, the people don’t just sit around. One thing happened this summer, [an administrator] kept talking about after Mass – the choir was already standing, clapping, but everyone else was still sitting down. One little kid, had to have been in around the 8th grade, gets up and starts swaying and clapping, and even though nobody else was and people were looking at him, he didn’t care. Five minutes later everyone was standing up and clapping.

BJH: hThtThere’s a certain sense of loss on “reentry” in your own culture – there’s a sense of “flattening.”

BCS: I know I don’t want to go home when I’m out there.

Reading 5 – Reflections from Greg and Bonnie Rando on their summer 2009 trip to Malole, Zambia

We really had no idea what to expect. Not knowing – we had no expectations. You have absolutely no sense of time. The bus broke down on the first day, but it really didn’t matter, because we really weren’t on a schedule. Kids would come from everywhere, and we would pull a soccer ball out, and that was our afternoon. There was an advantage to not knowing, because there were no expectations.

Each day brought new opportunities to get involved with things that were going on at the school – go to Mass with the student population. The kids were organizing the Mass; they do everything, they took full responsibility for the coordination of the Mass. From the minute we stepped on campus, we felt welcomed by everyone - not just the Brothers, but the students, the villagers, everyone we came in contact with. The only thing we wanted to do was a faculty in-service on the charism of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. What it means to be a Brother there has a different feel, but the faculty was very receptive to our presentation on the charism. We compared the mission statements of Catholic High School [in Baton Rouge], Brother Martin High School [in New Orleans], and St. Francis [in Malole], and they were very similar. The faculty there came away with a real feel for the global nature of the Institute. They threw us a farewell party at the end, that’s how nice they were. They felt like we didn’t just come to bring them soccer balls, but that we really came to share the mission.

The students understand what the curriculum is, and they know they have to learn for the test, but they want to learn everything.

They invited me (Bonnie, a nurse) to a Red Cross meeting. Little did I know I was the guest speaker! They wanted to learn whatever they could from us, but they asked about things I never deal with in Louisiana, like, “What do you do if a cobra spits in your eye?”

It was a Brothers of the Sacred Heart school in the truest sense – everyone teaches something, and students learn inside and outside of the school.

They thanked us, but we thanked them, because they gave us a whole new perspective on what matters.

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