Following Gerardo Marti’s line of reasoning, I can argue that ethnic identity is an asset in the church or in chaplaincy, where ethnic identity is a means to find points of encounters between people. In order to do that it is important to pay attention to the social-cultural and racial dynamics in those settings. The question I ask is whether pastoral care is independent from the context where it happens. People have different worldviews in our society, but sometimes those views are frequently downplayed. I wonder how we be able to offer appropriate pastoral care if those issues are ignored or if we ignore the contextual aspect of spiritual care.
Every social group understands life differently, and their worldview brings an invaluable richness to any community. Sometimes people rarely pay attention to the roles that play a particular social group in the life of a community, for example. In other cases, our communities ignore the importance of the diversity of thought, perspectives, and the richness of having a racial or cultural mosaic. Similar situation happens when working with people with mental illness. Society shapes the way people see those who are suffering in a mental institution. Are caregivers free of that shaping? No. And it is because of that, that spiritual care is contextual and depends of many factors, such as societal norms, religion, culture, subculture, gender, etc.
When I speak here of multicultural context, it not simply race, but the way people live out and understand life. Think about, for example, the difference that exists in North California vs. South California. It is the same country, the same state, but there are a lot of differences between the two. A caregiver who ignores that subculture may still offer pastoral care to a member of that subculture, but that care can be challenging, in some way.
Besides being contextual, pastoral care is also communal. Pastoral care does not happen in isolation. In the New Testament, we see God caring about every social group, but also he also cares about every individual of the community. The best example of this is centurion Cornelius’ conversion found in the Book of Acts 10. It is in this sense that in offering dignified pastoral care it is of great importance the creation of a safe place where people who we minister could continue growing in their own communities.
As Christians one cannot forget that offering pastoral care to others is an experience that lets us appreciate God’s work in others where his mercy and love for his creation is reflected. Spiritual care is better understood as a true and integral part of God’s creative, redemptive, and providential act of restoring and sustaining shalom.