The U.S. Church is at a critical crossroads when it comes to Hispanic Catholics. While the number of adult Catholics who self-identify as Hispanic is growing (up by 4 percentage points in recent years), the number of adult Hispanics who self-identify as Catholic is dropping. Moreover, nearly 1 in 4 Hispanics/Latinos now self-identify as former Catholics.
Such statistics present a conundrum for a Church that is facing a future in which Hispanic men, women and children make up its base. Indeed, when looking at the majority percentage of Catholics under 30 who are Hispanic, we realize the future truly is ahora — right now. In order to retain this base, thereby most effectively sustaining the Catholic Church in America, the U.S. Church must find a way to connect with it. While the U.S. Church has not always been successful at reaching out to the Hispanic community, one effort, known as Encuentro, has gained traction over the last 40 years. Led by Hispanic leaders, Encuentro is a multiyear process that attempts to ascertain the needs and concerns of Hispanic Catholics, while also identifying future leaders. A national Encuentro gathering is scheduled for 2018, but the key to the event’s success is the grassroots process leading up to it. The Encuentro process invites feedback from individual Catholics beginning at the parish level, then progresses to a diocesan, regional and, ultimately, national forum.
As Patricia Jiménez, co-founder of the website USHispanicMinistry.com, told Our Sunday Visitor this week, “When you involve all levels using a grassroots model ... you get insights that you wouldn’t normally get. The process allows the voice of everyone to be heard. No one is left out.”
Looking inwardly, the goals of the current Encuentro process, called Encuentro V, focus on leadership development and the continued evangelization and retention of Hispanic and Latino Catholics. The process correctly seeks to engage second- and third-generation young people, whose needs go well beyond having access to a Mass in Spanish. And it hopes to support Catholic Hispanic immigrants to help them flourish in the United States while still feeling connected to the faith of their roots.
These are ambitious goals, each possessing great value. But a broader goal must not be overlooked — namely that Encuentro also has the ability to help unify and educate the entire U.S. Church. Through the identification of the needs and priorities of the Hispanic community, the U.S. Church as a whole will be better equipped to welcome and integrate Hispanic Catholics into parish and diocesan life, thereby fostering a deeper relationship between Hispanics and non-Hispanics. It also will result in a greater awareness of the rich contributions brought to the U.S. Church by the Hispanic community — a development that naturally also will shine a light on other ethnic minorities in the Church, including black, Asian, American Indian and Pacific Islander Catholics.
Our Sunday Visitor, as one of four major padrino sponsors of Encuentro V, is fully backing this effort. But corporate sponsorships can’t do it alone. It is our hope that the U.S. Church as a whole, especially its bishops and pastors, be fully supportive of the Encuentro process, recognizing that the leaders of the Hispanic community identified today may very well be the leaders of the Church as a whole tomorrow. We encourage them to engage fully with the process and share news about it with the entire Catholic community. Because, for the U.S. Church, el futuro es ahora — the future is now.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor