The blossoming of Hispanic Catholic communities in our parishes and dioceses is God’s great gift to the U.S. Church. Forty percent of all U.S. Catholics self-identify as Hispanic, 55 percent under the age of 30 and 60 percent under the age of 18. The future of our Church is already present, but are we ready for them? Dr. Hosffman Ospino, with the support of Boston College and funding from Our Sunday Visitor and others, has just released the most wide ranging study yet of Hispanic Ministry in Catholic parishes. The results — reported in our In Focus (Pages 9-12) this week — are eye opening: at times exhilarating and at times disturbing.
In aggregate, the statistics paint a picture of a Church that is changing rapidly in its demographics. As Ospino puts it, “The Hispanic presence has reached critical mass in the life of the Church.” Yet the Church is lagging in its allocation of resources and leadership to serve this shift.
One-quarter of all parishes in this country has Hispanic ministries, and these are often the largest or fastest growing ones. According to Mark Gray of the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate, “In the 21st century, if you don’t do Hispanic Ministry well as a parish, you will have an uncertain future.” Yet these parishes are often resource poor. And while only 3 percent of Hispanic children go to Catholic schools, youth ministry for this population is particularly weak.
‘In the 21st century, if you don’t do Hispanic Ministry well as a parish, you will have an uncertain future.’
Parishes with a majority of Hispanic members bring in less money even though they have greater sacramental practice and greater needs. Indeed, the economic inequality among parishes is one of the greatest challenges facing our Church.
In addition, the majority of Hispanics in our country were born here and are assimilating rapidly. While Hispanic ministry is often seen as the ministry to Spanish-speakers, young Catholic Hispanics are English-speaking or bilingual and are looking for something beyond simply the Spanish language.
The signs of hope are there as well. Hispanic families have a higher retention rate than non-Hispanic Catholics in terms of passing on the Faith to their children. Apostolic movements such as the Charismatic Renewal are vibrant “engines of evangelization” in Hispanic parishes. The growth of lay ecclesial ministers among Hispanics, especially women, is significant.
As Ospino wrote this week, “we need to do pastoral planning that leads to envisioning creative ways to passionately bring people to an encounter with Jesus Christ in the everyday of their lives.” We believe that these pastoral priorities must include a focus on the catechesis of today’s young Hispanic Catholics; improved diaconate and ministerial education available in both Spanish and English; a growth in a stewardship sensibility among both Hispanics and non-Hispanics to help address the financial needs of many parishes; and a deeper appreciation of our rich, and enriching, diversity as a Church, so that it may be a model for society as a whole.
What the demographic shift already tells us is that this is not just a question of serving a diverse minority population — this is a question of preparing for our future. Our bishops, our priests, our women religious, our religious educators, our catechists, our parish leaders will be coming from this new population of Catholics. If we do this right in terms of education resources, in terms of sacramental preparation, in terms of vocations and in terms of evangelization, we are guaranteeing a new springtime for the Church in the 21st century. It is time for all of us as Catholics to embrace and commit ourselves to the effort needed to ensure this renewal.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor