Celebrating its 25th anniversary in Chicago, the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry poses a recurring question to the 34 member organizations attending its annual conference: Latinos are creeping toward a commanding majority of U.S. Catholics, so how can we help the church with its pastoral approach?
“NCCHM is a gift to the church, but with that gift comes great responsibility,” said the council’s vice president, Pedro Rubalcava, before the crowd.
The council – a team of Latino organizations that promotes Hispanic ministry through advocacy, education, and networking – is hosting its annual gathering June 23-26 at the Catholic Theological Union, meant to encourage discussions among the country’s Hispanic ministers and Latino leaders as to how this demographic can best utilize its newly dominant presence in the U.S. church.
With panelists, leaders, and crowd comments regularly invoking Pope Francis throughout the weekend, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento stressed during one keynote panel discussion, that we mustn’t own or rigidly mark Francis as a Latino pope, because he belongs to the whole church. This comment would subtly guide other dialogues: Hispanic ministry must also be done with the rest of the church in mind, not just the Hispanic faction.
Reassuring the attendees that the U.S. bishops’ conference truly does care about Hispanic ministry, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio said in another keynote panel discussion that Hispanic ministry means something different to each bishop.
Throughout the weekend, it became clear that a blurry concept of “ministry” was not just true for the bishops, as more questions would arise after nearly every panel or presentation. Who do we consider Latinos? What are our needs? How can we sustain ourselves, whether as a council or as ministering dioceses, with ever-dwindling budgets? Francis has said that perhaps the church must lead by following and see where the people take it – where are Hispanics taking it? Where do we want to take it? How do we inspire our youth to assume this responsibility?
Though Hispanics younger than 30 constitute 60 percent of U.S. Catholics, the statistic that inspired the weekend’s brainstorming sessions was that 14 million young Latinos have left the church.
García-Siller added that we need a pastoral conversion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a need for more Masses in Spanish, or more funding for Hispanic outreach. It means a change in thinking. And pastoral ministry isn’t about turning laypeople into little priests and religious who teach catechesis, the attendees agreed; rather, it’s about empowering laypeople to take charge of the church’s culture.
But once we empower the youth, handing them the reins, where will they take the church?
[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for the NCR reporting project Global Sisters Report. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]