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Unity Requires Conversion

By Jorge I. Domínguez-López

“In this time of pain and shame for our Catholic Church,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, Mass., said Our Heavenly Father “has given us this Encuentro as an oasis of joy, light and hope.”

It was an accurate assessment of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, the meeting of Hispanic Catholic leaders held in Grapevine, Texas, this past weekend.

While the issue of sexual abuse was very much present in the panels, discussions and conversations among the 3,000 delegates from all over the United States, it didn’t overshadow the joyful atmosphere of the Encuentro.

After two years of reflection at the parish, diocesan and regional levels, Hispanic leaders finally met in Texas to think and talk about the needs and gifts of the Hispanic Catholics, who now represent 40 percent of the total Catholic population in this country.

The main issue at the V Encuentro was the role of Hispanic Catholics in the Church in the United States. How these men and women, young and old, can be fully integrated in the life of the Church? Are they ready to assume the leadership roles that could reflect their presence in our parishes and dioceses?

Bishop Michael Olson of Grapevine, the host diocese of the Encuentro, pointed out a critical aspect of this issue. “Unity requires conversion. We have to be willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of unity,” he said in an interview with The Tablet. “Those who are speaking English have to be willing to listen to another group; but it also means that in the Spanish-speaking community there has to be a willingness to let go also of things that they hold dear.”

He reminded me of what Archbishop Juan García of Havana, Cuba, said in an interview last year when we asked him to send a personal message to the Hispanic Catholics of our diocese.

“You were born in Latin America but you are now in Brooklyn — that’s part of God’s plan too,” the Cuban prelate said. “Keep your roots, but remember that you belong to the Catholic Church, because there is no Cuban Church, nor Mexican Church, nor Brooklynite Church, but only one Catholic Church. And now you should spread the Good News where you are.”

This “letting go of things that they hold dear” is indeed a high price to pay. But it was the price that previous generations of immigrants – Irish, Italian, Polish, German – had to pay to build the parishes and dioceses of the Catholic Church in America.

The pastoral services and programs created specifically for Hispanic Catholics, from Spanish Masses to Spanish publications, have been critical to welcome the multitudinous waves of Latino Catholics arriving here. Now the second, and no less critical, step of this process is to fully integrate those immigrants and their children into their new local church.

There has been an abundance of misunderstanding and resistance to this process from all quarters. The natural, Christian answer to the question is that what unites us is not a program or a pastoral strategy – it is Jesus Christ.

The young Hispanic leaders at the Encuentro – more comfortable expressing themselves in English than Spanish – were a telling sign of the cultural aspect of integration already underway.

And they will be the fulfillment of that unity we are all called to promote.

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