Why Latino Catholics are key to the future of the church in the U.S.

Marcos Gonzalez Villalba, center, meets with young adult leaders in the Diocese of Shreveport, La., in this undated photo. He is the first Hispanic youth and young adult coordinator for the diocese. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Extension)

One sign of hope for the Catholic Church's future has been the phenomenal growth and vibrancy of faith among young Latino Catholics.

Today, more than half of U.S. millennial Catholics—ages 14 to 34—are Hispanic as are two-thirds of Catholics under 35 who attend church regularly.

Advertisement

Catholic Extension has been helping mission dioceses foster the faith of young Hispanics through religious education, youth and young adult ministry and leadership development. For example, four years ago, Extension made it possible for the Diocese of Shreveport to hire Marcos Gonzalez Villalba as its first diocesan Hispanic youth and young adult coordinator.

Chicago-based Catholic Extension is a national fundraising organization founded in 1905 to support the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses.

Villalba has been helping parishes reach out to young Latinos and provide groups for them. Now Hispanic youth are being included in diocesan-wide events, retreats, workshops and leadership camps.

Parishes and groups with Hispanics are beginning to flourish.

"The seeds that have been planted are starting to sprout," Villalba told Extension magazine. "More people in our Hispanic community are excited about their faith and share their love for God within their own culture."

According to Edgar Pardo, a leader in the young adult group Oasis at Christ the King Parish in Bossier City, Villalba is the "heartbeat of the young adult groups" and "has made a huge difference" in connecting the church with young Hispanics. Pardo said young Hispanics easily "fall by the wayside."

Villalba sees his own role as being one of the "gente puente," a bridge builder. "The church has built a bridge to them, so they can come across."

The youth and young adult groups have led to greater participation in Mass, with young Latinos taking on roles such as eucharistic ministers or choir members.

"They realize they have the potential to give back. That also reaches outside the walls of the church," he said, as "they now extend the arms of Christ to others" by helping elderly neighbors or disabled children.

One concrete result of the work with young Latinos has been that the Shreveport Diocese now has its first Hispanic seminarians.

Three years ago, Villalba's diocesan leadership team talked with some young Hispanic men and women about considering becoming a priest or religious. One of them eventually entered the seminary, and two others followed. Now the diocese has three Latino seminarians.

They come to youth retreats to share their story and inspire others to think about that path.

Villalba believes that getting involved in youth and young adult groups has helped many Hispanics "learn to be leaders among their peers, in their homes and at school."

"We help them develop their potential so that they know that they are special in God's eyes," said. "Here the church is their family and they know they are loved."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
3 years 3 months ago
The key to the future of the church is to keep all young people in the church. It will be hard to do that without making the church more welcoming to women.

Advertisement

The latest from america

“Wearing the label ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ is not enough to belong to Jesus. We need to speak the same language as Jesus: that of love,” Pope Francis said as he celebrated the third World Day of the Poor by saying Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica this Sunday morning.

Gerard O’ConnellNovember 17, 2019
Catholics holding torches leave Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, 2015, after praying for victims of the 1945 atomic bombing. Pope Francis will finally fulfill his desire to be a missionary to Japan when he visits the country, as well as Thailand, Nov. 20-26, 2019, the Vatican announced Sept. 13. (CNS photo/Toru Hanai, Reuters)
It will be his fourth trip to Asia since becoming pope.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 15, 2019
“Parasite” delivers an epic lesson in class warfare.
John AndersonNovember 15, 2019
photo: Alfredo Capozzi/HBO
Despite its apparent irreverence, the Maradonian Church mimics Catholic structures and echoes the Ignatian intention of finding God in all things.
Jose SolísNovember 15, 2019