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While it is true that the Irish and other European Americans have been the dominant presence in the archdiocese over the last two hundred years, that reality obscures the fact that racial minorities have been an important part of this history. The Boston archdiocese has always been an immigrant church.
Various white European ethnic groups –the Germans, the French, the Italians—established their national churches, while smaller clusters of Catholics from Africa and the Caribbean were also part of the early church. After World War II, when the number of African Americans in Boston increased substantially, efforts by church leaders to assimilate black Catholics into the archdiocesan structure were frustrated by the struggle over school desegregation during the 1960s and the bitter busing crises of the 1970s. By the 1980s however, changing demographics had begun to further transform the racial and ethnic makeup of the Boston archdiocese, as immigrants began to arrive in great numbers, with an estimated 500,000 Hispanics living within its boundaries in 2004.
"As Cardinal O'Malley stated in December 2003 to priests assembled at Boston College, 'Special regard must be given to the new immigrants who have cultural needs, linguistic and otherwise.' How the parish reconfiguration will ultimately affect immigrants is still to be seen. A number of the closed or merged parishes have sizable immigrant populations and are concentrated in urban areas, the very same areas that have been hardest hit by the reconfiguration. The archdiocese's immigrant population has needs beyond language. The many cultural complexities within all of the communities must be addressed by clergy and laity alike, particularly in newly blended parishes. In some parishes, Mass is offered in two or three different languages to different nationalities. The level of interaction between native born and recent arrivals varies from parish to parish. As some immigrants leave urban areas they will encounter less diverse parishes in the suburbs. Truly integrated parishes remain more a hope than a reality. This along with their enculturation will be an ongoing struggle, as it has always been. New immigrants bring their vibrancy, hope, and faith with them, as they always have. It will be up to everyone to make sure their faith can be maintained." - William C. Leonard's essay, People of Faith, People of Color: Two Hundred Years of Diversity in the Archdiocese of Boston. Read more in the book preview.
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