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Alive in Christ

A Young Man’s Reflection

In late June, representatives of the Diocese of Birmingham attended the Journeying Together national event, which was held by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through its Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. The event was the culmination of a two-year process to address cultural diversity and how all communities can participate more fully in the life of the Church. 

One young man from the Diocese of Birmingham, Matthew Walker, attended the event. As an Office of Black Catholic Ministry Advisory Board member, Walker represented the diocese and offered a reflection of his experience, which follows herein.  

To say the past couple years have been a test of faith may be an understatement. We have endured events such as an ongoing global pandemic and social uneasiness. For me, the one thing that helped me get through all these hurdles was being a part of the Journeying Together process and discussing the various challenges facing the different cultures that make up the Church. These cultures range from Pan Asian, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Hispanic, to black and African. In June, we had our first experience of interacting with each other in person at the Alive in Christ conference. The results that followed were moments I will never forget.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Chicago, Illinois a bit late for opening festivities. My flights had been delayed, so I was admittedly in a place of frustration when I entered the conference. That annoyance melted away, however, when my eyes were met by many colors and sounds of cultural diversity. People were dressed in wondrous cultural garb, and the sound of many languages filled the air.

Before my eyes, I saw what the Kingdom of God must look like.

I couldn’t help but smile as I took my seat. I felt as if all the troubles leading up to my arrival were necessary in order for me to see how beautiful God’s people really are.

To exemplify the purpose of the event, I would like to share an experience. One morning a prayer was listed out with many different languages; however, the script for the segment was improperly prepared and, in the confusion, a language was skipped. While this small slip was marginal, it reflected what Catholics from different cultures experience: not being properly represented or heard. Many of our brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds feel marginalized and pushed to the side. In my opinion, ensuring that all of God’s children are tended to and not just seen but truly heard should be at the forefront of our faith walk.

I will always cherish the interactions I had with many wonderful people and the speakers throughout the conference. The authenticity of the stories of learning, painful experiences, and redemptive actions made my eyes well with tears more times than I can count. I specifically recall a conversation with a young man from a native tribe of Alaska. He explained to me the rich heritage and traditions of his tribe and how they came to be Catholic. I was enthralled with his tale and could only respond by asking, “How come I’ve never heard about this?” He simply replied to me, “Don’t feel bad. I feel like no one else has either.” That sentiment struck me to the core. Here we have a thriving culture so very different from our own but still sharing the great faith of Catholicism. This small group of people has been seemingly ignored. What has solidified my faith has been the opportunity to learn of others’ faith journeys, hearing about their struggles and how the Church was there for them. Yet, here was a young man who shared my faith but didn’t know about the many other cultures of the Church. Meeting the young man lit a fire in me. God’s people are so far reaching, just waiting for the opportunity to tell their stories of inspiration and passion. This event gave them a platform to do so, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that encounter. However, we can have encounters in our day-to-day faith walks. We can offer our stories and hear those of others in our everyday lives. These encounters not only grow our faith but expand God’s Kingdom by making connections and finding common grounds.

I could write so much more about my experience, but I feel the simplified message I want to get across is this one: You are never alone and will always be heard. It can seem like we are so divided in our relationships with others, feeling like no one is standing with us or even cares about us. However, this is so far from the truth. There is a community of God’s people out there ready and willing to listen. More importantly, there is a community of God’s people waiting to be heard. What will you do to find them?

Photo Cutline: Matthew Walker (l) takes time with Bishop Jospeh Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, and Deacon Douglass Moorer of the Diocese of Birmingham during the Journeying Together event in Chicago.