This report was conducted by Rev. Raϊl Gomez and Dr. Manuel Vαsquez, in conjunction with the Life Cycle Institute of the Catholic University of America. Funding for the on-site interviews was provided by the Louisville Foundation. The information was obtained from on-site interviews with some bishops, with clergy and religious, diocesan staff members, and lay leaders from eight dioceses in different parts of the country.
- Background and Methodology
- General Profile
- Key Issues and Challenges
- Leadership development and formation
- Incorporation versus assimilation
- The Tension between multiplicity and unity in the parish
- Increasing Hispanic diversity
- Intergenerational conflicts
- The tension between popular religiosity and evangelization
- The tension between a pastoral focus on the sacraments and one stressing social justice.
- The existence of a restricted view of stewardship
- Ministering effectively to Hispanic youth
- The loss of Hispanics to other faiths
- Welcoming Hispanics within an increasingly culturally diverse Church
This study was commissioned by the Bishops' Committee on Hispanic Affairs of the U.S. Catholic Conference in the spring of 1998. It seeks to provide qualitative information on Hispanic ministry. Using a series of questions in English and Spanish, the interviews were conducted between the fall of 1998 and the spring of 1999. Diocesan bishops who were available were interviewed, as well as diocesan directors of Hispanic ministry, chancery officials, pastors, pastoralists, and laity. In addition, efforts were made to attend at least one Spanish-language Mass in a parish setting.
The methodology of the study included meetings of the researchers with research advisors and experts from The Catholic University of America and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference to discuss variables, goals, and procedures. Eight dioceses were selected for four-days on-site visits by the researchers. Each researcher was assigned four dioceses. Separate test visits to two of the eight dioceses were conducted in the fall of 1998 by the researchers. A follow-up meeting to discuss the experience and to improve the methodology took place in December 1998.
The eight dioceses selected provided major characteristics necessary for a well-rounded picture of Hispanic ministry in the United States. These characteristics include: 1) an active and well-established Hispanic ministry office or director, 2) rural and urban ministry either in different dioceses or in the same one, 3) representative of the different geographical regions of the U.S., 4) a diversity of Hispanic national/cultural groups, and 5) a variety of approaches to Hispanic ministry. In addition, it was decided to include dioceses that are less well-known for their Hispanic ministry efforts and experience. Because research has recently been done on the Midwest region, it was decided to visit two dioceses in the Far West.
The eight dioceses visited were Brooklyn (North East region), Ft. Worth (South West region), Omaha (North Central region), Orange (Far West region), San Jose (Far West region), Santa Fe (Mountain States region), Seattle (North West region), and Tampa-St. Petersburg (South East region). Estimates of the Hispanic Catholic populations in these dioceses range from 30% to 80% and include representatives from every Spanish-speaking nation in the world. Nonetheless, the majority population of most of the dioceses visited is Mexican; followed by Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, and Central Americans depending on the diocese. Some dioceses had been actively involved in the encuentro process from its onset and others have been beneficiaries of the process. Some dioceses are far advanced in Hispanic Ministry and its integration into the total pastoral efforts of the local church. Others are in the beginning stages of establishing an office, developing of a local pastoral plan, and training pastoral leaders to help meet the needs of the growing Hispanic community. The dioceses have done a good job of hiring well prepared directors and staff members and some have even hired parish pastoral ministers.
The majority of Hispanics in the dioceses visited can be classified as poor and lower-middle class, although there are substantial numbers of families who are economically and educationally well-off. This number is increasing slowly. Nonetheless, Hispanics tend to fill the lower echelon of jobs in the service, agriculture, food processing, and manufacturing industries. There is much mobility as people seek better jobs, better housing, and greater freedom from immigration officials. They are affected by many problems including low wages, unsafe working conditions, and long hours.
Certain characteristics were frequently cited by informants as troublesome. These include the arrival of young men who come to earn money to send home and who find themselves in an environment they do not understand. In some cases they might even get into trouble with the law. They tend to work in service jobs although some work as farm workers or in non-skilled construction or factory jobs. Some are married and have left their spouses and children in their homelands; at times they begin to live with other women and have children by them, thus, creating two families: one in the US and one in their homeland. A related characteristic is the number of marriages requiring validation or regularization. Many pastoralists describe the great need among Hispanics for basic catechesis and instruction in church doctrine. Others describe the alienation caused by church regulations for baptisms, first communions, quince aρos celebrations, and marriages as well as those caused by requirements for parish registration prior to the reception of key sacraments or social services. Another troublesome characteristic is the "second generation syndrome:" many of our informants were at a loss as to how to minister to the growing group of Hispanics who either speak no Spanish, tend to drop out of school, have poor self-esteem, or feel uncertain about their identity. Finally, conflict among different generations of Hispanics, including different immigrant waves and national groups, is a growing concern.
Despite these concerns, Hispanics in these dioceses are creating a resurgence of the Catholic Church in some parishes which the number of Catholics was decreasing. There is evidence of vibrant parishes marked by both a rich liturgical and devotional life as well as participation by Hispanics in formation and ministerial programs. Many Hispanics are energized and motivated to participate in the life of the parish by their activity in Charismatic Renewal and other prayer groups and in the different apostolic movements. They have a great thirst for knowledge of the Bible as well as for leadership formation. In many of the dioceses visited, the Hispanic community has led to a renewal of devotional practices and to an increase in parish activities centered on spiritual development. Women in particular are volunteering, and at times being hired, as pastoral assistants in the areas of catechesis as well as general pastoral ministry. Men and women are participating in continuing education programs. The Church, by means of activist priests and others, has been particularly adept at raising the consciousness of the Hispanic community. Many Hispanic Catholics are now participating in political and social activities that serve to make the community more visible and thus more credible to the dominant culture. In general, Hispanics both appear to be both in need of the Church's ministry and ready to take leadership in ministering to their own and others.
All the dioceses visited exhibited a shortage of Hispanic leadership at all levels. While the shortage of priests is a generalized problem throughout the country, the lack of Hispanic priests is particularly challenging, given demographic trends. Informants frequently stated that their greatest need was for Hispanic priests, who, among other things, could celebrate the Mass and perform sacraments in Spanish. Often times the few Sunday masses in Spanish are too crowded, forcing people to stand in the aisles and at the back of the church, where they cannot feel truly welcomed.
To respond to the shortage of Hispanic priests, some of the dioceses have invited priests from Latin America. This strategy has some important implications, not all necessarily positive. For instance, many of the priests who come to this country end up staying, leaving dioceses in Latin America even more strapped for resources. Conversely, because many of the Latin American priests come to minister specifically to Spanish-speaking populations, they end up not learning English, thereby failing to reach English-speaking Hispanics and other members of the parish. This, in turn, can lead to the segregation of Spanish-speaking Hispanics from the rest of the Church. Moreover, many Latin American priests bring models of pastoral work and understandings of church which may be at odds with the parish life and experience of U.S. Latinos. This difference can lead to priests taking insensitive positions towards the local populations.
In the absence of Hispanic priests, informants consistently expressed their desire to have more bilingual priests, who can not only "read" the mass in Spanish but, more importantly, imbue it with the deep spirituality and joy that characterize Hispanic Catholicism. Wbile all of the informants appreciated the sincere efforts made by nonHispanic priests to overcome the language barrier, there was agreement that what is needed are priests who can understand and cherish the living culture and spmtuality of Hispanics. Such an understanding emerges only out of an attitude of conversion to the Hispanic condition and, thus, it is not necessarily tied to a particular national or ethnic origin. In fact, in some cases, having Hispanic ancestry did not automatically guarantee a greater openness towards substantial sectors of the Hispanic population. On the other hand, some informants mentioned the need to be vigilant less the Church fall into a paternalism of love a kind of overly protective ministry to Hispanics by non-Hispanics. This attitude can end up, as an unintended consequence, thwarting the development of Hispanic leadership within the Church.
At the level of the laity, shortage of leadership is due to serious deficits in formation and training. While many of the dioceses we visited have made the formation of lay leadership a priority, there are often administrative constraints that limit the access of Hispanics to seminaries, institutes, and other leadership initiatives. Given the high dropout rate among Hispanic high school students, the requirement of having completed higher education tends to exclude many potential candidates from important positions of leadership (for example in the chancery). Many times those excluded are the Hispanics who are most involved in the life of the parish. This situation not only leads to the loss of committed leadership for the Church but also creates feelings of rejection among active members of the laity. A related problem is the failure to tap into lay leaders who have had extensive training in Latin America, simply because they do not have the right credentials in the United States.
The challenge of lay leadership goes beyond numbers. Even when there are trained lay leaders in the parish, it is not uncommon for them to be marginalized or delegitimized by priests, who feel threatened or might not be willing to decentralize some of the pastoral work. Unfortunately, the laity can also play a negative role here, as they often prefer dealing with priests instead of permanent deacons or lay ministers. One leader stated "for us the priest's word is what counts; the lay person, no matter how well prepared, has no credibility."
One final element within this heading is the intense desire of the Hispanic laity to receive proper biblical formation. One informant put things starkly: "the sects are eating us alive, simply because we don't know the Bible and when they cite it to us, we get all confused and don't know how to respond, to defend our faith."
There is an on-going tension between those who propose that the best way to bring Hispanics into the Church is by assimilating them into mainstream Catholicism and culture in the United States as fast as possible, and those who advocate that true incorporation requires that Hispanics be welcomed first on their own terms. Assimilationists tend to favor programs and pastoral activities underlining the need to learn English and U.S. customs right away. In contrast, the other position contends that forcing Hispanics to assimilate immediately only reproduces their subaltern status within the Church. Lacking the training and internal community resources, they are often assimilated in marginal positions. In this view, it is first necessary for Hispanics to feel that the parish is their home, and this requires providing special services, often in Spanish. Once Hispanics feel invested in the Church, the task of identifying and forming leadership begins (also in Spanish). Once the Hispanic Catholic community has gained sufficient strength, then and only then, can one talk of its incorporation into the larger parish. Critics of this gradualist view of incorporation often claim that there is a danger of making the same mistakes of the past, of producing exclusionary "mini national parishes" that divide the Church.
With some dissenting voices, particularly in the Northeast, the consensus was, that given the increasing cultural and ethnic diversity within the Church, it is not advisable to go back to the national parish model. Most of informants endorsed the idea of a multicultural Church. However, tensions arose around how to construct a truly multicultural Church. The dioceses visited encompassed, sometimes uncomfortably, some pastoral leaders who advocated rapid assimilation and others who defended gradual incorporation. These tensions often colored the work of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry (OHM). In fact, in some instances, the Office of Hispanic Ministry functioned as a parallel mini-chancery, a fact that gave it some autonomy but also isolated it from the rest of diocese. At other places, the OHM was dissolved and its various members re-assigned to diocesan offices such as youth outreach and religious education, mostly as assistants, raising the issue of subordinate assimilation.
Among Hispanics, the parish structure finds itself under challenge by a complex host of social and religious variables. First, the increasing differentiation and mobility of the Hispanic population severely strain parish resources. Parishes tend to be overwhelmed by the massive influxes of Latinos, often coming from countries and cultures previously not present in the area. This is the case of some parishes in the Northeast which have witnessed the rapid growth of Mexican immigration in the past ten years. It is not uncommon for newer waves of Latino immigrants to appear as soon as parishes have readjusted their resources and outreach work. All the while, the formerly new immigrants may have moved to another parish or diocese, as they stabilize their condition or search for new jobs. Furthermore, parishes also have to contend with migration from nonLatinos as well as the gentrification of urban areas. All this fluidity and fragmentation challenges the parish to continue to anchor self and community life.
A second challenge to the parish is the internal multiplicity of pastoral models, including traditionalist, reformist and transformative approaches, which often co-exist without clear, overarching coordination. Often times, parishes choose to privilege one approach, leaving significant areas of pastoral work unattended. This, in turn, creates resentment within certain sectors of the parish population. More specifically, for all their valuable contributions, apostolic movements can be a source of potential intra-church division. Often they adopt a quasi-sectarian attitude, focusing single-mindedly on their own activities and growth and neglecting the welfare of the parish. Given their success among Hispanics, apostolic movements tend to see themselves as holding the right way of being church. This attitude can set these groups against those in the parish who are involved in other pastoral approaches and even against each other. This division, in turn, makes coordination of Hispanic ministry more difficult.
The last three decades have seen an increasing differentiation in the Hispanic population, especially along lines of nationality, class, and race. New waves of immigration from Latin America have posed many challenges to Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, and Mexican Americans, the most established Latino immigrant groups. While the latter have generally extended a warm reception to the newer arrivals, In some cases, belonging to the parish community is determined by time of arrival. As a result, newly arrived immigrants, who often come in large waves, are treated like foreigners, outsiders, taking away valuable resources from the locals without contributing anything to the Church.
The existence of multiple nationalities in a single parish sometimes also leads to other types of tensions. Since there is a close link between the construction on nationhood and local forms of popular Catholicism, each Latino nationality brings its own way of celebrating collective identity, including particular Catholic rituals and beliefs. Sometimes, national differences dovetail with affiliation to particular apostolic movements (for example, Cubans tended to be more present in the leadership of the Cursillo movement, while Puerto Ricans more often involved with the Charismatic Renewal), increasing tensions among various pastoral approaches. When the Church fails to recognize these important national and ethnic differences among Latinos or dismisses them by simply appealing to the fact that "we are all Catholic," conflicts may even become more polarizing.
In addition to divisions around nationality, recent changes in the economy have led, on the one hand, to the formation of a growing Latino middle-class and, on the other, to persistent poverty in large sectors of the Hispanic population. This widening gap has important implications for pastoral work. As one of informants shared: "two populations are particularly vulnerable to evangelical Protestantism. One is the recently arrived immigrant, many of them very poor, who get lost in the U.S., with no one to care for them. The other [group] is made up of middle class Hispanics, who have been here for a long time and have felt the great pressure to assimilate. These people are attracted to Protestant megachurches where the gospel of health, wealth, and wisdom. is preached. There they find justification and celebration of their upward mobility. There, they find the personal therapies to deal with their family and work problems."
There is a similar tension in the Southeast, where there is a widening gap between upwardly mobile, urban and white Cuban-Americans and mostly poor, mestizo, rural workers in peripheral areas. With this example, the issue of race and ethnicity is introduced as a potentially divisive force among Latino Catholics. This issue was not restricted to one part of the country. There is a large migrant farm population working in the flower, f1ruit, and food processing industry. These immigrants are mostly Amerindians from Southern Mexico and Central America, who do not speak Spanish, although they are identified as Mexicans by the locals. On top of the usual racism experienced by other Hispanics, these immigrants also suffer discrimination by earlier arrivals, often on the basis of their ethnicity and socio-economic status.
Intergenerational conflicts crystallize around second generation Hispanics, a group that is bound to continue growing as the newer immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Central and South America begin to settle in the United States. Second generation Hispanics have pressures and predicaments that are specific to their condition of being simultaneously in two worlds. On the one hand, they have been brought up according to Latin American ideals and norms, which have defined their parents' lives. On the other, they have had to construct their own ways to negotiate the challenge of everyday life in this country. Often, the demands of these two identities collide, leading to personal confusion and parent-child conflicts. For instance, it is not uncommon for parents to demand that their children receive religious education and the sacraments in Spanish, despite the fact that many of these children are English-dominant. At the same time, parents have the right and responsibility to be involved in their children's religious education.
A case in point of the particular challenges involved in outreach to second generation Hispanics can be found in dioceses in the Southwest. Some informants believed that the hardest group to reach is the Mexican-American community. According to one pastor, Mexican-Americans have become "too Americanized." While they are generally more economically stable and educated than newly arrived immigrants, they tend to have more broken marriages and divorces. Part of the problem is that they have become "secularized," putting more stress on material goods and social activities than on church participation and spiritual growth. Also the issue of mixed marriages poses a challenge, since it leads many to join the non-Catholic churches of their spouses. Other informants remarked that since second and third generation Mexican Americans are English dominant, many go to English only parishes where they often find a different style of worship that is not as celebratory and community-oriented as that found in Hispanic congregations. As a result, some Mexican-Americans who still speak Spanish might return to the Hispanic parishes, but just to receive the sacraments, and not to be actively involved in church life. Alternatively, they may find themselves without a place in the Church to feel at home.
Highlighting this fact, some pastoral ministers pay special attention to the newly arrived because of their urgent needs, many times leaving second generation Hispanics abandoned.
Despite the fact that there has been a clear change in attitudes towards popular devotions since Vatican II, instances of discrimination can still be found. This is evident in practices such as the quinceaρeras and the celebrations organized by brotherhoods around their patron saint. In the eyes of some pastors, popular devotions are nothing more than "a Catholicism of a day" which focus on rituals and symbols, stressing great but isolated moments of fervor, yet failing to translate into deep and lasting spiritual transformation and sustained participation in the life of the Church. Some pastors mentioned that practices like quinceaρeras are too time-consuming, especially when there are other more important pastoral needs such as celebrating the Mass and other sacraments.
Many times, appealing to the need to engage in a true evangelization, pastors have sought to eliminate the practices of popular devotion, encouraging people to participate instead in more modern apostolic movements such as Cursillo or the Charismatic Renewal. One pastor shared that popular religious practices should only be used as a stepping stone to greater faith maturity and then dropped. Since popular Catholicism has a long history of resilience and relative autonomy, its rejection and marginalization only serves to alienate Latinos from the Church.
In spite of the important efforts to link faith and social action through ecumenical church-based organizations, pastoral work among Hispanics has tended to emphasize the sacramental dimension. Furthermore, under pressure by the loss of Hispanics to various religions groups, particularly to evangelical Protestantism, there has been a shift in small faith-sharing communities from social reflection and action, towards an almost exclusive focus on prayer and personal conversion.
There has to be a more concerted effort to respond to issues such as the persistence of racism, the emergence of violent anti-immigrant nativism, the promulgation of unjust immigration laws, and the deepening of poverty among Latinos. These issues affect the fabric of Latino life, dividing families, undermining communities, and force people to focus on everyday survival rather than on practicing and living out their faith. All these social realities make evangelization and the welcoming of Latinos into the Church more difficult.
Even though numerically and in terms of commitment, Latinas are an essential force within the Catholic Church, they are among the most affected by current socio-economic changes, such as the downsizing of welfare programs. The high rate of female-headed households, with women sometimes working two or three jobs to support their families, is another troubling reality. The situation of Latinas is aggravated by persistent sexism. In the extreme, this sexism can lead to violent subordination of women by their husbands and partners. Special effort should be made to address these issues.
One problem often found, particularly in places where the Hispanic population is relatively new or poor, is that Hispanics do not feel included in the process of decision-making within the parish. This despite the fact that they maybe numerically the most significant group in the parish. In this type of situation Latinos are more likely to reject efforts to construct a multicultural parish in favor of one that is fully Hispanic, where they can find representation in the various parish structures. As one lay leader put it: "I am discouraged by the fact that we, Hispanics, don't count here in this parish. We come to mass in great numbers and our Masses are really filled with the spirit But all the power is in the hands of a small group of (non-Hispanic] old-timers who contribute a lot of money to the Church."
The challenges identified under this heading have to do with the multiple experiences associated with Hispanic youth. Hispanics use the term not just for teenagers but also for young adults, that is, single men and women. In view of this expanded definition, the problem of youth gangs, although prominent in many of the sites visited, is just one of the most visible symptoms of the larger reality faced by young Latinos. This reality includes persistent poverty and lack of employment opportunities, high drop-out rates, racism in schools and job places, the breakdown of Latino families and communities, the pressures to survive in environments often marked by high level of crime, and the ever-presence of a consumerist culture and a culture of violence and death promoted by the entertainment industry.
To deal with all these obstacles young Latinos search for spaces where they can rearticulate their lost family and community. Often, they cannot find this space in the Church, because they are seen by elders with suspicion and bafflement. They then turn, in small but significant numbers, to gangs for the intimacy, loyalty, acceptance, and a sense of pride that the larger society cannot give them.
In many ways, the issues facing Hispanic youth dovetail with those confronting second generation Hispanics, as both generational and age differences are at the core of family miscommunication and conflict. Given the fact that the Latino population in this country is overwhelmingly young (approximately 50 percent are under the age of twenty-six years of age and over 33% under the age of eighteen), the Church ignores Hispanic youth at its own peril.
According to a recent article by Andrew Greeley (America 09/27/97), the "equivalent of one out of seven Hispanics has left Catholicism in a little more than a quarter of a century. The annual loss is approximately one half of one percent. If this hemorrhage should continue for the next 25 years, half of all American Hispanics will not be Catholic." Greeley estimates that 600,000 Hispanics are lost to the Church every year. This loss, in his view, "exceeds that of early Irish immigrants to the American South. It is the worst defection in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States."
While data available in this area is insufficient at best, there is a generalized attitude of concern among the laity. There were several problems which informants identified as making Hispanics feel not welcomed in the Catholic Church and, as a result, making them more open to alternative religious denominations. Many informants believed that, in contrast to evangelical Protestant churches, excessive administrative tasks and rules in Catholic churches often override a spontaneous, personal, and warm reception. Some Hispanics complained about having to fill out complicated forms and produce evidence of being registered (such as showing contribution envelopes) before they could receive the sacraments. In many of these cases, Catholic ritual becomes almost commodified, subject to a kind of bureacratization that blunts its spiritual power. Often times, rituals and sacraments under these conditions do not serve as the basis for evangelizing, for bringing people closer to the Church.
Finally, other informants reported that Hispanics are attracted to evangelical Protestant churches by a powerful preaching that skillfully links the Scriptures with examples from everyday predicaments and by the notion of church as an extended family in Christ. Family is here equated not only with intimacy but also with a strict ethos that provides clear orientation to its various members.
Visiting various dioceses provided an opportunity to better sense the increasing cultural diversity within the Church. In many places, Hispanics worship together not only with Euro-Americans and African-Americans, but also with Haitians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Polish, and recently arrived Irish Catholics. Often these groups experience a faster upward economic mobility, which translates into influence in church affairs. This leaves many Hispanics resentful, feeling marginalized by the Church. Given the Church's limited resources, the challenge is to welcome and affirm Latino voices without excluding other voices that have also been at the margins of the Church. Put in other words, the challenge is simultaneously to affirm that "we are a church of many faces," with Latinos as an important prophetic presence, and renew our commitment to a common Catholic identity and mission.