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A group of Latino Catholics standing amid pews recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at the Labor Day Encuentro gathering at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., on Sept. 3, 2018. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)Latino Catholics recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at the Labor Day Encuentro gathering at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., on Sept. 3, 2018. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

On June 16, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the “National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry.” Building on the vision of a previous pastoral plan for Hispanic/Latino ministry promulgated in 1987, the plan calls for a synodal church that is more welcoming, evangelizing and missionary at all levels, and a church that can build vibrant parish communities with our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in the context of a culturally diverse society.

For the past four decades, Hispanic/Latino ministry has flourished in thousands of parishes across the country. Such ministries have produced many fruits as millions of Hispanic/Latino families have been able to live and celebrate their Catholic faith.

Hispanic/Latinos are an emerging majority of the Catholic population in the United States.

In 2007, the Pew Research Center estimated that Hispanics had accounted for 71 percent of the growth in the Catholic population in the United States since 1960 and that 62 percent of these new U.S. Catholics were U.S.-born. According to a study from Boston College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Latinos made up about 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic population as of 2014, up from about one-quarter in the 1980s. And in 2019, Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, also estimated that 60 percent of U.S. Catholics under the age of 18 were Hispanic/Latino. All of this makes Hispanic/Latinos an emerging majority of the Catholic population in the United States.

Keenly aware of this new reality, the pastoral plan is designed to further strengthen ministries among our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters over the next 10 years. It also strives to redouble the church’s efforts to mentor, form and embrace a new generation of Hispanic/Latino leaders as missionary disciples ready to serve the entire church and the society. The plan refers to Hispanics/Latinos as a blessing from God, as well as a missionary and prophetic presence that revitalizes the church in the United States. A few of the community’s graces include an abiding love for family and community, a rich practice of Catholic traditions, an authentic Marian devotion and vibrant ecclesial movements.

The pastoral plan refers to Hispanics/Latinos as a blessing from God, as well as a missionary and prophetic presence that revitalizes the church in the United States.

Nearly 4,500 parishes across the country now have Hispanic/Latino ministries. Over 90 percent of those parishes are “shared parishes”—that is, ministries that are conducted in at least two different languages and cultural contexts. Hispanics/Latinos in those shared parishes find themselves at various degrees of ecclesial integration and inclusion, depending on how long the ministry has been in place, the level of intercultural competence of the pastor and his staff, and other factors. The process of inclusion/integration moves people from feeling welcomed in the parish to developing a sense of belonging to the parish, and ultimately to a sense of ownership. The higher the level of ecclesial integration/inclusion, the higher the level of stewardship of the Hispanic/Latino community. The same process applies to other members of a parish as they discover new ways of being one parish even as they come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. A detailed description of this process can be found in the U.S.C.C.B. book Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They All May Be One.

It is important to note that the new pastoral plan is addressed to all church leaders, and everybody is invited to participate in its implementation. Also important is the plan’s call for all leaders in the church to become more interculturally competent. That is, they should have the capacity to communicate, work and relate with people from other cultures. Intercultural competency involves gaining knowledge, developing skills, and adopting an attitude of openness and respect for people from other cultures.

The following actions, activities and attitudes have proven to be effective in accompanying Hispanics/Latinos in their process of ecclesial integration/inclusion in the parish, as articulated in the pastoral plan. They show how you and your parish can participate in the 10-year plan for Hispanic/Latino ministry:

  • Notice and acknowledge people in your parish as members of the faith community.
  • Take the first step in greeting people and asking questions to create a sense of familiarity.
  • Try to take part in each other’s activities with a genuine sense of openness and curiosity.
  • Create opportunities for intercultural dialogue to learn about each other’s stories, cultural traditions and ways of celebrating the faith.
  • Move from an “us/they” to a “we” language and build relationships with people from other cultures.
  • Include representatives of all communities in the planning of parish activities and be supportive in the planning of activities led by different cultural/ethnic groups.
  • Identify potential Hispanic/Latino leaders and advocate for leadership development and formation.
  • Form Hispanic/Latino leaders to better understand the structure and governance of the parish and to learn how to successfully engage with the pastor, staff, parish council, financial council, etc.
  • Invest in the formation of Hispanic/Latino leaders, particularly young adults.
  • Mentor Hispanic/Latino leaders into becoming members of the parish council and other advisory groups in the parish.

In addition, it is highly recommended to consider the Five Principles for Achieving Ecclesial Integration/Inclusion when articulating the vision and mission of your parish, school or other Catholic organization. These principles are proposed in the U.S.C.C.B. book Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers. The following are some of the highlights of these principles in terms of what needs to be in place and what needs to be avoided.

Articulate a vision of ministry based on ecclesial integration and inclusion. Recognize and affirm cultural diversity as a gift from God, not as a problem; and avoid the temptation to expect others to assimilate into a one-size-fits-allapproach.

Foster the inculturation of the Gospel in all cultures. Commit to the ongoing transformation of all cultures by the Gospel values; and avoid the tendency to see your culture as better or more valuable than other cultures.

Plan with people, not for people. Include Hispanics/Latinos in the planning of activities and programs from the beginning; and avoid planning for others and blaming them when they do not participate.

Broaden your understanding of ministry groups and programs and cast a bigger net.Promote the formation of culturally specific groups and apostolic movements; and avoid the perception that forming culturally specific groups is divisive.

Empower people from different cultures into leadership positions. Mentor leaders for service within Hispanic/Latino ministry and the parish as a whole; and avoid a mentality of scarcity (i.e., “There is not enough for everyone”).

Let us continue walking together in building the beloved community of missionary disciples that Jesus calls us to be. The invitation to participate in the pastoral plan is a unique opportunity to engage and form new leaders, invigorate parishes, and multiply creative pastoral responses to the growing Hispanic/Latino presence in all Catholic institutions and organizations.

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