The following is by Moira Malley, who attended the 2015 Church Ministers Conference on September 19 in San Diego.

The 2015 Church Ministers Conference, entitled “Called to Be Disciples of Christ,” was held on September 19 at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, California. In addition to a keynote address by Robert McElroy, Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, the conference featured a total of 96 workshops, some in English and others in Spanish. I was privileged to hear presentations by all of the speakers in the last few years, and greatly benefited from their insights. This time, however, I ventured into less familiar territory, and chose to attend a workshop entitled “Evangelization and Catechesis in a Bilingual and Multicultural Context: Challenges and Opportunities” by Father Jon Pedigo. Although I was interested in hearing new ideas for evangelization and catechesis, I soon discovered that his version of Catholicism was heavily influenced by secular progressivism.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Father Pedigo is currently the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, located in a heavily Hispanic area in east San José, where, according to him, the average income is between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, and where undocumented immigrants abound. He was formerly the pastor of Saint Julie Billiart, a more affluent parish, also in San José, where most parishioners were white and also homeowners.

Father Pedigo began his talk by emphasizing his Jesuit background and the inspiration he has drawn from Pope Francis’ encyclicals: Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si. His main focus was on meeting the challenges of culture clashes in our parishes, caused by prejudice as well as differences traditions, language abilities, and choice of music. He then requested that we turn to the person next to us to discuss ways we have overcome cultural differences in our parishes. When he asked us to share our findings with the group, I raised my hand and said that in my parish, which is located in an area of San Diego that is multicultural, but primarily Hispanic, we now have the Legion of Mary, where people of different ethnic groups, be they Hispanic, Caucasian, or Black, team up to visit people in the neighborhood to either introduce them to or reacquaint them with the Catholic Faith. I was about to provide more details as to how this breaks down cultural barriers, but he quickly moved on, probably because the Legion of Mary: 1) smacks of traditionalism, and 2) does not involve political activism.

According to Father Pedigo, Pope Francis is shifting the focus of the papacy, challenging us to have a true “encounter”—encuentro in Spanish with the poor. The location is now the parish, not the chancery or the Vatican. To illustrate this point, he provided the following quotations from paragraph 28 of Evangelii Gaudium:

“The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.’ This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.”

In his slide presentation, Father Pedigo turned his attention to the word “Rule,” i.e., the rules of our Faith, saying “we’ve got that down.” Given that so many Catholics today are poorly catechized, this statement was indeed stunning, but when I voiced my objection, he merely said, “We respectfully disagree.” He went on to say that we have tradition, but the people we encounter have a journey. Therefore, instead of saying that we have the truth, Father Pedigo said that we are to “walk with them to discover that truth.” Instead of saying, “We have the answers,” we are to focus on the encounter by listening, sharing, empathizing, showing compassion, and welcoming.”

In Father Pedigo’s estimation, therefore, truth should be replaced with relativism. He then stated that “we have the sacraments,” but instead of referring to them as outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace, he ignores their spiritual significance and places the emphasis on the individual, saying: “We celebrate your life with the sacraments.”
From his presentation, it was clear that instead of providing instruction in the faith, Father Pedigo’s priority was to “go deeper into the neighborhood” and “teach people how to organize.” The questions he asked us were: “Are we thinking beyond the parish?”, “Can we as an institution serve the common good of the neighborhood?”, and “How do you lift up the poor and excluded in your neighborhood?”

Convinced that people from affluent neighborhoods are incapable of understanding the realities of the poor, he mentioned a prominent Republican politician by name and said that this person would soil himself when he heard Pope Francis address both houses of Congress. (The actual expression he used was unprintable.)
At the end of the talk, I asked Father Pedigo what all of this had to do with the salvation of souls. His response was that Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si covered that subject extensively. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis rightly condemns our modern “throw-away culture,” the idolatry of money, and the exclusion of the poor. However, in paragraph 182, he states that “It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.” In Laudato Si there is no mention of the salvation of souls.

In his talk, Father Pedigo clearly expressed his distaste for ”separate but equal” CCD courses in English and Spanish, because in his estimation, they create an “us vs. them” situation. Yet his plan to “listen, share, empathize, and show compassion” does not seem to provide for catechesis for both groups, nor does he address the language barrier. In my own experience at multicultural parishes, the unifying force is our Catholic faith.

The story that Father Pedigo did not want to hear goes as follows: A few years ago, the Legion of Mary visited a woman in the neighborhood who no longer went to church because she had lost a child and could not understand how God could have permitted such a tragedy. Coincidentally, two of the Legion of Mary visitors had each lost a child, so they were able to empathize with her, comfort her, and pray with her, and eventually succeed in evangelizing her without compromising the truth.
Instead of resorting to relativism, secular humanism, and community organizing to solve human problems, let us make use of the resources that already exist in the Catholic Church.