Todays L.A. Times featured a story about Father Peter Banks, pastor of Brindisi Church on Compton Ave, in Los Angeles. He is an Irish Catholic priest who years ago was assigned to his parish to minister to a primarily African-American population. He came fresh out of Ireland as a young man and was faced with the challenge of reaching from his own culture into Watts. I was inpressed by his willingness to risk in connecting with the foreign culture into which he was placed.
Over the years his parish became predominately Latino. Now he finds himself as an Irish priest seeking to reconcile African Americans and Latinos who look with suspicion upon each other and who have even been at war. So Father Banks seeks to build bridges for the sake of making peace, of deepening understanding, and of simply getting to known one another as members of the human race.
This is the challenge faced by the church in modern America. We live in the context of many tribes, languages, nationalities, and cultures. Continuing to live in our own camps with xenophophia ruling our souls will lead to the building of higher walls of hostility, gang warfare, and loss of life. Surely, there must be some way for us to find common ground, to come to know each other, and to spiritually connect with those who are different.
The mission of the early church was faced with exactly the same issues. There were dividing walls of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free. The gospel tells us that Jesus broke down these dividing walls at the cross. Through his blood God made peace and reconciled us. Through Christ one new humanity came into being. (Ephesians 2) As in all centuries the church has still to live into the reconciliation established by Jesus.
This is not easy. There are many barriers both within and without. Father Banks is a model of Christ’s reconciling work. We could all learn from him, Catholic or Protestant.