September 15, 2006


Migration and assimilation

After centuries of being a poor country, Ireland has become one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

One result is that Ireland, which had experienced severe emigration ever since the potato famine began in 1845, is now receiving many immigrants. It’s welcoming them, too, because Ireland
needs the workers.

When this writer was in Dublin last year, all the waiters and waitresses at the restaurant at our hotel were Orientals. Ethnic restaurants have popped up in Ireland’s larger cities.

While this is happening in Ireland, Poland is experiencing the opposite problem. Unemployment in Poland has reached 18 percent. Consequently, since May 2004, nearly 2 million young Polish men and women have emigrated from Poland.

Where are they going? Half of them now live in Ireland and Britain. All this has created problems in
Ireland that the United States has always faced—how to assimilate the newcomers into the country’s culture.

The Church is involved in Ireland since most of those Polish immigrants are Catholics, and they would like to have Mass in their language—at least until they learn English.

We hope that the Church in Ireland will be as successful as the Church in the United States has been with its immigrants.

Granted, there were difficult periods in our history when various ethnic groups that couldn’t speak English came into conflict with bishops and priests, mainly Irish who
already spoke English who objected to having to offer Mass in German, Italian or Polish. But there was a gradual assimilation over several generations.

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language as an adult knows how difficult it is. That’s why the Church tries to provide Masses and other services in the language of the newcomer.

But usually the second generation of immigrants is bilingual, speaking their parents’ language at
home and English outside the home. By the time the third generation comes along, they might or might not know enough of the original language to speak to their grandparents.

Immigrants realize the necessity of learning English. A survey released by the Pew Hispanic Center on June 7 showed that 57 percent of Latino immigrants feel it is necessary to learn English, and 96 percent of foreign-born Latinos believe it is very important that the children of immigrants be taught

If there had been surveys of the French, Germans or Italians who comprised much of our earlier foreign speaking immigrants, we feel sure the percentages would have been similar.

Our Church in Indiana was heavily dependent on foreign-speaking immigrants. Our first four ishops came from France, as did Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin and the first Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. So did Father Edward Sorin, who founded the University of Notre Dame. They all experienced great difficulty in learning English since they were learning it as adults.

German Catholics were prevalent in several sections of the state, both north and south. Often, the Irish objected to the fact that sermons in their churches were in German (the Masses themselves, of course, were in Latin).

Ethnic parishes were common. St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis was originally for the Irish; today, it’s mainly Latino. Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis was Italian, a fact that it celebrates each year with its Italian Festival.

Eventually, of course, the parishioners of those ethnic parishes learned to speak English. The same thing will happen with most of the Latino parishioners in our parishes today.

Ireland has another problem when it comes to immigration and assimilation.

As is true in other European countries, Muslims are the fastest growing immigrants in Ireland today.
As France, England, Germany and other countries are learning, many of these Muslims have no intention of assimilating. As the dominant culture of Europe has become secular rather than Christian-based, and as the Muslim population continues to grow at a much higher rate than non-
Muslims, there is a real threat that Muslims will become dominant throughout Europe.

That doesn’t seem to be a threat here in the United States where even most Muslims assimilate into our culture. Of course, here, most of our immigrants are Latinos, most of whom, according to surveys, do assimilate.

— John F. Fink


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