“Evangelization is the fundamental mission of the Church. It is also an ongoing process of encountering Christ, a process that Hispanic Catholics have taken to heart in their pastoral planning. This process generates a mística (mystical theology) and a spirituality that lead to conversion, communion, and solidarity, touching every dimension of Christian life and transforming every human situation.”
On the occasion of this important milestone marking the publication of the USCCB’s seminal document on adult faith formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us (hereafter “the document”), issued on the cusp of the new millennium, it is worth reflecting on its impact and influence on Hispanic ministry in this country. Much has taken place since that time, while significant ongoing challenges remain.
Some Pertinent Principles
Although the document does not explicitly address the Hispanic or other specific cultural communities, a number of its organizing principles do speak to some noteworthy realities. These principles will be the touchstones for this reflection. First, persons will always prefer to worship where they feel comfortable and at home. Second, faith as it relates to the family is a critical factor in any religious tradition. And lastly, social customs and popular devotion in harmony with the Gospel are to be respected, affirmed, and celebrated.
First Things First - Welcoming and Hospitality
While data are generally lacking regarding the number of Hispanics who have left the Catholic Church, current information suggests that a significant number of Hispanics who were baptized as Catholics join other Christian denominations and religious traditions every year; including fundamentalist groups and “storefront” churches—many of which maintain Hispanic cultural traditions that might otherwise be considered to be “Catholic,” including quinceañeras (fifteenth birthday blessings) and Epiphany celebrations. New arrivals often find the structure of the parish and the style of worship to be very different from what they experienced in their native country. In this unfamiliar environment, they are frequently targeted for what could be considered aggressive proselytizing by non-Catholic groups, and are offered transportation, many kinds of assistance, skillful scriptural preaching, as well as a friendly community to which to belong.
All this highlights the compelling need for Catholic parishes to provide a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere to newcomers, including Spanish-language and/or bilingual worship, ministries, parish pastoral leaders, and personnel whenever possible. In addition, Catholic parishes must be aware of several factors that can make Hispanics feel unwelcomed in the Catholic Church and make them more open to seeking a home in other faith traditions. Among these factors are: an unspoken attitude from parish staff or parishioners that they are “undesirable”; excessive or overwhelming administrative rules and forms; and being required to produce evidence of contribution envelopes before they can receive the sacraments.