National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry celebrates progress, plans for the future

To reflect on the status of Hispanic ministry and the plan for a 2018 national meeting of Latino ministry, called "encuentro," religious leaders, bishops and officials from organizations that work with Latinos throughout the country met June 23-26 at the Catholic Theological Union on the South Side of Chicago.

At a meeting called by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, participants spent four days exchanging ideas, attending different panels, discussing the current situation facing youth ministry—including developing strategies so youth can participate in parishes—and exploring the relationship between the church and technology.

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This exchange of experiences also was organized to prepare for the fifth national encounter called V Encuentro. Preparations, including reflections about the upcoming encuentro, began in 2015 and will culminate with a national celebration of the church's Hispanic ministry in 2018.

"It will be the greatest experience of evangelization in the history of Catholicism in the United States" said Hosffman Ospino. "We hope to actively involve 1 million U.S. Catholics and at least 7 million" through other means.

Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, took part in a panel that focused on the present status of Hispanic ministry.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of pastoral leaders have been working on the planning process of the V Encuentro (in 2018)," said Ospino. "Maybe the (upcoming encounter) will be the most exciting answer to the invitation of the new evangelization in our country."

The celebration on the of 25 years of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry was bittersweet because on the first day of the gathering, June 23, the eight justices of the U.S. Supreme Court announced a tie vote, effectively freezing the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, and its expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, leaving almost 5 million immigrants in limbo.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller lamented the court's decision. "Many people are suffering. [The June 23] decision sets us back almost 10 years," he said. He added that even though Hispanic ministry has been one of the groups that has worked for immigration reform, there is still is no impact on the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants. "Now, with what happened [on June 23], this situation will remain in a vacuum and people are going to suffer more," he said.

Participant Estela Villagran spoke about interesting opportunities for formation of lay groups and collaboration with other dioceses.

Villagran, who is president of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors for Hispanic Ministry, mentioned also the main obstacles that the ministry faces. Among others, there is the challenge of reduced or frozen budgets, the need of bilingual staff in the diocesan offices and the functions in those offices.

She said those who work in Hispanic ministry continually have to remind other staff that "we are not a translation bureau."

"We tend to be diluted in an office of multicultural ministries," said Villagran, quoting another common situation.

Carmen Aguinaco, former president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, summarized important moments in Hispanic ministry. "Our mission sprang forth as an answer to a void, but that void is not the same as it was 25 years ago. The issues are more complex now because the church is much more diverse," she said, emphasizing the need of considering the "why" and the "what for" of the ministry's present mission.

The idea of creating the national Hispanic ministry council emerged in 1990 and a year after that, the first meeting was organized.

"We needed leadership for the growing Hispanic community," said Elizabeth Roman, the council's president, "and there wasn't an organization that united us. Yes, we worked with the bishops and we had organized some encounters, but there wasn't an organization that represented the Hispanic ministry, to help with education, helped us gather for conversation and dialogue."

Roman explained that National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry is like an umbrella for the Catholic organizations working in the Hispanic ministry with the purpose of promoting leadership and education.

The recent gathering at Catholic Theological Union was attended by 100 leaders, representing about 60 member organizations.

Discussion of the topic of technology and the church included a presentation in which participants could see that with the rise of the internet, participation in church has diminished.

"There are some interesting numbers," Roman said, "we have to figure out how to use the internet to carry the message to young people. The youth ministry is very important because of the numbers. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of the church's youth (30 years old or younger), are Hispanic. We have to attract them but also to make them leaders for the church."

The necessity to attract youth to the church was a much talked about topic.

"Young Catholic Hispanics are adrift," said Ospino. "We can't ignore the reality: statistics show that 14 million Latinos grew up Catholic in this country, but at some point left the church, and a large majority were youth born in the United States."

"However, in spite of this," added Ospino, "we can say that it's exciting being a Catholic in this moment in history."

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