Multiple cultures at All Saints offer a glimpse of the ‘Universal Church’

Moira Cullings

When Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen looks out into the pews during Mass, he is inspired by the diversity he sees.

“It’s giving me a true sense of understanding the universal church,” said the All Saints Catholic Church pastor.

“Different backgrounds give me a true sense of appreciation as the people of the holy mother Church gather throughout the world.”

All Saints, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Nov. 18, is made up of a mosaic of cultures — from Vietnamese and Hmong to Hispanic and Anglo.

For the parishioners, that variety makes their worship experience even richer.

“It’s exciting that we all come from so many different backgrounds, but we all share the same beliefs,” said John Altman, who has been a parishioner at All Saints his entire life.

“It especially struck me during the anniversary Mass when we were saying the Creed,” he said. “I was looking around, and we’re all from so many different backgrounds and countries. And we’re all standing here reciting the same words and believing the same things.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presides over the 50th anniversary Mass celebrating the dedication of All Saints Catholic Church on Nov. 18. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated Mass for the parish’s anniversary, which was followed by a reception. The archbishop also blessed the parish’s new prayer garden, which includes statues of different saints, and parishioners enjoyed seeing the new 17 Stations of the Cross in place right outside the church.

Barb Serpa, who joined the parish two years ago, is grateful for Msgr. Quang’s leadership and the upgrades to the parish.

“Monsignor has a lovely way of pulling us all together and making us feel like one family in celebrating our diversity as opposed to struggling with it,” she said. “It’s a very comfortable place to be.”

Although Serpa is newer to the parish, she already feels right at home and spends one to two days a week volunteering for the music and bereavement ministries.

“Since the day I walked in the door, I have felt very welcomed,” she said. “Whatever services I can contribute, I always feel appreciated by the staff.”

Altman, who recently joined the finance council, has also felt closer to his parish family since taking on the role.

“I always felt like I belonged,” he said, “but because I’m involved more, I feel a sense of ownership.”

One of the things that strikes Serpa about All Saints is the liveliness she’s discovered there.

“I feel that there’s life here,” she said. “I’ve been at parishes in the past where you get a sensation that there’s stagnation or a lot of ritual, but not a lot of heart. I have to give the compliment to Monsignor for his vision that we are all brothers and sisters. It’s lovely.”

They can see that after 50 years, the church is still alive.”

The parish is thriving enough to offer three daily Masses — 6:30 a.m. in English, 7:30 a.m. in English and 6 p.m. in Vietnamese. Monsignor Quang even learned the Hmong language and says Mass for the community on Sundays at 1 p.m.

All Saints has around 1,500 registered families, and according to Msgr. Quang, that number continues to increase.

“All I can say is I’m grateful,” he said.

Monsignor Quang believes more parishioners are drawn to the parish because they “find some of those people that share the common faith and the culture and hopefully the zeal for evangelization.”

To keep up with the growth, the pastor is constantly working to enliven the parish both physically and spiritually.

“I believe that the people are so happy,” said Msgr. Quang. “They can see that after 50 years, the church is still alive.

“They were so proud and continue to pass on the flame of faith to the younger generation — not only for a small group of people, but a group of people from many different cultures.”

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA