My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
For several years, the period between mid-September and mid-October has been designated as National Hispanic Heritage Month. In the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, we recognize the vibrant and diverse history that the Hispanic population has contributed to this diocese of immigrants. Recently, for the most part, the Hispanic immigration has given our diocese a new face and new energy.
Nationally, 55 million people, or about 17 percent of the American population, are of Hispanic heritage, or of Latino origin as some prefer to say. More than two-thirds of these people still consider themselves Roman Catholic and have been baptized in the Church. The challenge for the Church today is to meet this new minority group, which will become a majority soon, of Catholics in the United States.
How do we make sure that these people remain Roman Catholic? How can we minister to these people so that they will not forsake the faith of their ancestors, and also find in their faith a new vibrancy and a reason for religious observance?
The V Encuentro, or the Fifth Encuentro, a national meeting of the Church regarding the Hispanic presence, was undertaken in the fall of 2015. In September of 2018, the V Encuentro came to its conclusion. This planning process, which began on the diocesan, regional and national levels, was a great impetus for planning ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics and their descendants in the United States. It is a tribute to the faithfulness of our Hispanic-heritage Catholics and to the recognition of the Church of their presence that this major planning process has taken place.
In 2018 in our own diocese, the Diocesan Encuentro took place at St. John’s University. And the Regional Encuentro took place several months later in Albany, as well as the National Encuentro in Dallas, attended by 30 diocesan representatives. Under the leadership of Bishop Octavio Cisneros and our team of three laywomen and three deacons, our diocese has been a vital part of this planning process. A final draft of the planning document will soon be issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A national team will be training diocesan teams regarding the implementation of the recommendations.
Certain priorities have emerged from this planning process. First, that the strong adherence of Hispanics to family is certainly one way that we can preserve the family structure, as St. John Paul II said, “The way of the family is the way of the Church.” We need to promote family unity and the family observance of religion.
Second, youth initiatives are truly important for the future. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, this does coincide with our own youth initiative, which is well underway, as well as the issue of faith formation and evangelization, which are very evident in our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. The people of Hispanic heritage populations are well involved.
Clearly, one of the issues close to the Hispanic agenda is immigration reform. This has always been part and parcel of our own work for this largely immigrant population.
Finally, leadership formation is truly important since the future of the Church in the United States will depend on forming future Hispanic leadership.
In addition, 78 parishes in the diocese have participated in RENEW International’s “LEVÁNTATE. Unámonos en Cristo” small faith sharing groups during the past four years. Over 4,600 people participated in these groups annually. Most of these Spanish speaking groups continue to meet even after the formal program is completed. Also, 40 of our parishes are presently participating in RENEW International’s “Why Catholic? ¿Por qué ser católico?” which will continue for the next three years. This process looks at the four pillars of the Catholic Church: Creed, Prayer, Sacraments, and Morality.
One area of particular concern which touches on youth ministry is the area of vocations. As I travel around the diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, I am constantly asked by the Spanish-speaking people to send them a “Spanish” priest. Sometimes I say, “You have a priest here who speaks Spanish.” They reply, “No, we want our own priest,” meaning that they want a priest from either their home country or someone who is a native speaker. I always respond that we need your children and grandchildren to become priests, so that you will have the leadership that you are demanding.
This is a difficult issue since the experience of our other ethnic groups has shown that the first and second generations of immigrants do not produce the vocations that normally one would expect. In the past, there have been exceptions; however, normally it is only the third generation which produces vocations sufficient to minister to the needs of a particular ethnic or language group. We need to make history, however, and not look back on history. Our efforts to inspire vocations among our Spanish-speaking or Spanish-heritage youth must increase, since they are, unfortunately, under represented in our own presbyterate.
There are, however, signs of hope. I cite the “Jornadas de Vida Cristiana” movement as one that gives us great cause for hope. These are children of many who have made the “Cursillos de Cristiandad” (Short courses of Christianity). This is an apostolic movement of the Church founded in Majorca, Spain, by a group of laymen in 1944, while they were refining a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders.
The Jornada is a Catholic Movement of Latino Youth and Young Adults, whose mission is to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the youth of New York City. It is very helpful to the youth in preserving their faith and inspiring vocations of service and, hopefully, vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need to challenge our Hispanic young people to take up leadership in the Church.
I take this opportunity to thank all our Spanish-speaking parishioners for their faithfulness to the evangelizing mission of the Church. The overwhelming response to the call for Catechetical leadership has resonated in the Spanish-speaking community. For this we truly thankful.
The people of Hispanic heritage of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens have truly put out into the deep, as they recognize their heritage during the months of September and October. As they celebrate this, we pray with them and for them, that they will take up the leadership task so important to the future of our Church in the United States.