Celebrating Cultural Diversity

As New Zealanders we like to think of ourselves as a fair and tolerant people. Sadly, events of the past year have shown that this is not always true. Attacks on Jewish cemeteries, subtle calls for uniformity and other incidents of intolerance indicate that we do not fully value the different cultures and traditions in our society. “A fair go” is not always universally applied.

At the same time we recognize and welcome the many expressions of cooperation and mutual acceptance to be found among culturally diverse New Zealanders. We are members of one human family, each created in the image of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks all languages, and esteems and embraces all cultures.

In the Scriptures St Paul uses the analogy of the body with many parts to show that unity does not require uniformity. When diverse groups work together for the common good they enrich our society through their respect for one another’s uniqueness and shared human dignity.

Pope John Paul reminded us in 1986 that peoples coming to this country from Europe did not come to a desert. They came to a land which already nurtured a rich and ancient heritage. He called on us to respect and foster that heritage. He also told us that we have a unique opportunity to show how Maori and other cultures can work together to build a society which is just and peaceful.

Some cultures are over-represented among the poor and vulnerable in our society. We are very concerned when assistance intended for those most in need is described as privileging those who receive it, or is attacked as showing cultural bias. Justice requires that we address the needs of those who are disadvantaged, especially where that disadvantage originates from past injustices experienced in this country or in countries overseas. A peaceful and harmonious society is the fruit of justice, not of false understandings of what constitutes equality.

At a personal level we need the courage to move beyond the comfort zone of our own culture, to put aside a natural shyness in order to engage with others who were raised in different places and in different ways. In our parishes we must continue the excellent work done by so many parish committees in creating liturgies and ministries which are culturally inclusive. Familiarity with cultures other than our own in the parish setting will help us to show the way to racial harmony in the wider community and in our workplaces.

Some may feel called to political action in response to racial disharmony, many will not. However we are all called to be agents of peace and justice – the leaven in the bread – through our appreciation of cultural diversity and work for racial harmony among the people we mix with every day.