Eagle's Eye

Diversity and Unity: Living in the Tension

"For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." (Romans 12:4-5).

Diversity is a very relevant topic today, be it in the world of business, politics, education, or religion. One hears of the need for workplace diversity; a college receives high marks if it is described as diverse; politicians speak glowingly of "diversity in their districts"; and diversity training is geared for nearly every age, ethnic group, and setting.

Even the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference now has a department devoted to cultural diversity in the Church, owing to large numbers of members from growing Latino, African, and Asian populations. The above quote from St. Paul gets to the heart of the tension in building a bridge between diversity and unity. Paul's analogous comparison of the human body to Christ's mystical Body is ageless and true.

Whether it is Church, state, workplace or body politic, the question must always be asked: What is the relationship between diversity in thought, belief, and practice and the need to achieve unity of purpose in a common project? Does the former trump the latter? And is diversity more than affirming "otherness," building coalitions and allies?

At NU, we've found ourselves in that conundrum both academically and socially. While we desire diversity, it also means learning new ways of looking at the world. Its zeitgeist can be difficult to translate into lasting actions beyond the world of ideas. But we try, in both curriculum and campus activities. For a Niagara education to make a difference, it must prepare our students to live and work in a diverse world of people and ideas, ready to "go global" any time. Yet, it must also be rooted in the "things of God."

One of my ongoing concerns as university chaplain is that, as we encourage diversity at NU, we also actively nourish our Catholic and Vincentian roots, which undergird our unity and cement common purpose. Both Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac accepted the diverse people and problems of their day as being from the hand of God. Their principle of unity in diversity was twofold: maintaining the dignity of each person made in God's image and welcoming each member as a part of the Body of Christ.

In this year of the 350th anniversary observance of the lives of Saints Vincent and Louise, the challenge for all Niagarans - students, faculty, staff, and alumni - is to respect and honor each person God puts in our path as one with innate dignity. The Catholic and Vincentian values which give glory to God and propel us to service of neighbor should be our unifying principle of life. For Saints Vincent and Louise, innovative service to the poor and master organizing skills were not ends in themselves; they led them to the person of Jesus, often manifested in the poor. Vincent's oft-used phrase: "Jesus Christ is the first rule of the mission," was uttered to remind us of the unity of purpose only Jesus provides.