Canadian religious challenged by multicultural living situations

Fr. Anthony Gittins says members of religious orders are in a new situation when they live with members from other cultures.


Fr. Anthony Gittins says members of religious orders are in a new situation when they live with members from other cultures.

June 9, 2014

MONTREAL – Religious communities face new challenges today with an increasing number of members coming from different countries and cultures, a guest speaker told more than 250 leaders of religious communities here May 29 to June 1.

They represent more than 15,000 women and men religious in Canada belonging to more than 200 different congregations.

Spiritan Father Anthony Gittins of Chicago, a theologian and social anthropologist, said members of international religious communities may live together, but that doesn't mean they live as an intercultural community.

Gittins opened his presentation to members of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) with two key questions: Can you distinguish between "international" and "intercultural" and can you distinguish between "multicultural" and "cross-cultural"?

"Intercultural living is radically different from living in an international community," he said. "Intercultural has to do with faith and with God. Faith can only be expressed through the medium of one's culture."

Intercultural living is authentic discipleship lived by culturally different people together. "There can be no dominant culture in intercultural living," he said.

Most people are raised in "monoculture," he said. We are predisposed to see things from a single perspective and to think there is only one way to do something.

In today's global village, however, more and more people live in "multicultural" neighbourhoods, where people of different cultures live together or side by side. Cultural differences are dealt with by "elimination" (such as genocide or assimilation) or by "blending" or "toleration." The dominant culture determines the rules and expectations.

Religious communities face a new reality when members go to a foreign country and culture. They make a commitment to live in someone else's cultural environment.


Gittins called this "cross-cultural" living. Such people live as "strangers" since we can never become full members of another culture with customs, practices and attitudes ingrained since birth.

"Intercultural" living is new to most people. It is not natural, but it is possible, he said. People of different cultures can live together, but it needs full commitment and hard work. It requires compromise, dialogue and a common vision.

"The old model of assimilation is dead," Gittins said. "If one culture is not to dominate, everyone is called to conversion." Communities need to convert their thinking from a model of "us and them" to a model of "we."

"Too often we have asked people to live their faith through our culture," Gittins said. They live as strangers in our culture which tries to assimilate them.


"Religious communities need to put in place programs to invite and welcome people from different cultures and guarantee that their gifts and perspectives be visible and valued," he commented.

The CRC celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1954 at the request of the Vatican which urged religious communities to coordinate their work and ministry in a greater spirit of co-operation and mutual support.

A new executive for the CRC was elected. Sister Rita Larivée, a sister of St. Ann, of Montreal is the new president. Basilian Father George Smith of Toronto is vice-president; Sister Annette Noël, a sister of Providence, of Montreal is the treasurer.