The Hispanic Future of the Catholic Church in the United States
FIP President’s Note:
By Reynaldo Montemayor Jr., PhL.
President of the FIP
Director of Pastoral Institute - Diocese of Laredo (TX)
May 3, 2014
- TO SEE
Today we see an obvious Latino Boom in the United States. The current social science projections for the future demographics in the USA confirm and predict that- if certain factors remain constant- Hispanics will no longer be a minority someday before the end of the 3rd millennium. Hispanics represent a considerable cultural force and not just to the economy and politics. But will Hispanics also be the religious force that we need in the USA? Will Hispanics be the promised Hope for the Catholic Church in the USA?
I think I can talk to you from the future, almost like a prophet! My “prophetic” perspective is from the Diocese of Laredo on the Texas-Mexico border with a population that is about 95% Hispanic and 80% Catholic! This beats the stats and percentages in the highly Hispanic archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Antonio but with a more or less 30% Catholic population respectively. I see the current social trends pointing to a future Church in the United States much like the local Church in my Diocese of Laredo in which most people are English-Spanish bi-lingual and those that aren’t only speak Spanish 3 to 1 to those that only speak English. All of our parishes offer Masses in Spanish. Towards the south of Laredo our Sunday Masses are mostly in Spanish whereas in the north of Laredo these would be mostly in English, though we get complaints of not enough Masses in English. In the Diocese of Laredo we do not have “Hispanic” ministry, just ministry in English and Spanish- though Tagalo may be on the rise. My ministry with adults is mostly in Spanish, and even when it is English almost always to Hispanics, and at times I wonder if there would be a need to create an “anglo” ministry. If this says anything about the future of Hispanic ministry in our country, we can hold fast to what is a constant pastoral need in ministry: formation. This is why I believe that our FIP, now in its pearly 30th anniversary, still has a long future ahead!
But I see a danger in the Americanism that the Catholic Church in the United States agonizes in today, as author Russel Shaw argues. Americanism, condemn by Pope Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, is a modernist ideology uncritical of certain American cultural principles that tends to a individualistic independently liberal spirituality (“they hold such liberty should be allowed in the Church, that her supervision and watchfulness being in some sense lessened, allowance be granted the faithful, each one to follow out more freely the leading of his own mind and the trend of his own proper activity.They are of opinion that such liberty has its counterpart in the newly given civil freedom which is now the right and the foundation of almost every secular state.”), seeing freedom as opposed to spiritual direction and religious vows translated into a pastoral liberalism that would encourage spiritual anarchy or autocracy (“all external guidance is set aside for those souls who are striving after Christian perfection as being superfluous or indeed, not useful in any sense -the contention being that the Holy Spirit pours richer and more abundant graces than formerly upon the souls of the faithful, so that without human intervention He teaches and guides them by some hidden instinct of His own. Yet it is the sign of no small over-confidence to desire to measure and determine the mode of the Divine communication to mankind”...), a doctrinal relativism and misunderstood “academic freedom” (“the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world”), the suppressing of “unpopular” Catholic teachings (“The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions... not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith”), a secular humanism (“... we find those who are fond of novelty giving an unwarranted importance to the natural virtues, as though they better responded to the customs and necessities of the times and that having these as his outfit man becomes more ready to act and more strenous in action.”), and a spiritual pragmatism or activism (“This over-esteem of natural virtue finds a method of expression in assuming to divide all virtues in active and passive, and it is alleged that whereas passive virtues found better place in past times, our age is to be characterized by the active. [...] From this disregard of the angelical virtues, erroneously styled passive, the step was a short one to a contempt of the religious life ...”), etc. The dangers of Americanism prevail today in many American Catholics that feel free to disregard and disobey Catholic faith and morals and/or to separate their private faith from their public life.
The fact that the current views among American Catholics on abortion as a woman’s "right", gay "marriage" as a "right" to equality, and contraception and sterilization as a "right" redefined as "healthcare" are not significantly different from the general population points to the logical consequences of this cancerous Americanism in our Church. Americanism can be blamed for the closing of many Catholic churches and schools in traditionally Catholic areas in the USA, like in the New England area where we see an implosion of Anglo-American Catholicism.
Why are too many American Catholics losing the Catholic faith? Why do so many American Catholics hold to secular views contrary to the faith? And they claim to do so in “good conscience”?! Maybe someday we can have the studies and the statistics to really know the causes of the socio-ecclesial situation we see before us. Though Pope Leo XIII did warn us one thing: “Let it be far from anyone's mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. ”
On the other hand, we see Hispanic Catholics taking up the empty pews in those churches that are left, and maybe even provoking growth in other areas of the country. We see social studies and projections affirm a growing Hispanic population. Many bishops in the Church have talked about the Hispanic Hope for the Church in the United States! And we see that Hispanics are in general Catholic, pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, etc., and have great potential of being that needed hope! It looks like those of us that have descended and inherited a European evangelization are now called to return the favor to those of European descent with a New Evangelization, and not just with Latino style but hopefully with Cristero passion! ¡Viva Cristo Rey!
I think it is significant that we now have a Hispanic pope (¡Viva Papa Francisco!) that is calling the universal Church to the mission, to go out into the peripheries of the world to evangelize it! The signs of the times show that our challenge as Hispanic Catholics is to be mature disciples and missionary conquerors for Christ and His Church. We must take up our place and responsibility without narcissistic triumphalism but with prophetic humility in a country and a world that desperately needs new missionaries for the New Evangelization.
Nonetheless we can judge that Hispanics are not spared from the seduction of Americanism in their pursuit of the American Dream! I think this Americanism could also be called a Mexicanism or other Latino-ism, if it refers to an egoistic materialistic pragmatic secularist liberalism wrapped in a national or ethnic guise. Americanism is not the true and good American culture but just a guise, a deceptive costume or mask, almost empty of any moral values and theological virtues. We Hispanics must be faithful to our true human and religious culture rich in moral values and virtues and reject the anti-values and vices of Americanism that we can reject as “gringadas” or “gringaderas”. A Mexican saying says, “¡Ay, Mexico! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de Estados Unidos!”, “Oh, Mexico! So far away from God yet so close to the United States!” I wonder if this saying has anything to do with the dangers of Americanism.
Americanism has nothing to do with being good Americans. Our challenge and charism as Hispanic American Catholics is to affirm and propose the best elements of our Catholic culture within the prevalent culture. If we are to be a true sign of hope for the Church in America, we must strive to maintain and/or recover an authentic Catholic identity that is much intertwined with our inherited Hispanic Catholic culture. Hispanic Catholics in the US are not immune to becoming “americanized” in the bad sense.
We can judge that Catholic Hispanics in general may be very well-intentioned in the faith act, but show a generally vast ignorance of faith content! Hispanics in general are not deeply evangelized and lack fundamental catechesis in the faith. This is why many are swept away by the American secular culture or by the many protestant sects in this country. Though we are a young population, statistics show a loss of faith in later generations. We can judge that Hispanics in general are not doing a good job in handing down the faith in this American context. We are also not gifting more priestly and religious vocations to the Church here in the United States. No one can give what they don’t have, and what little formed and ill-informed faith they transmit tends to fade away in the future more “americanized” generations.
The only true pastoral hope for the Catholic Church in the United States is found in faith and ministry formation. Catholics in general and not just Hispanics must be formed as disciples before being sent out to evangelize but also after being evangelized or re-evangelized they must receive some discipleship formation. There is no evangelization without formation and there is no true formation without evangelization. Christ evangelizes and forms his first disciples before sending them to “make disciples”. Formation must be evangelizing so as to prepare the agents of evangelization. There is no evangelization without its formed agents to make it happen. But evangelization must be formative also in order to “make disciples”, apprentices of Jesus. We can also judge with what the USCCB says in Co-Workers in the Vineyard that at the root of the pastoral failings and problems in the Church is a lack of formation or a severely neglected formation.
Here in the Diocese of Laredo that I propose as a prefiguration of the Hispanic future of the Catholic Church in the United States, we have a lot of potential but are lacking enough well-formed agents to really take advantage of our great potential. It is frustrating to be in a socio-ecclesial context in which 8 out of 10 Laredoans are Catholic and yet only 1 or 2 of those 8 ever go to Sunday Mass! We are generally too complacent with the status quo! My diocese is in an ideal situation with tremendous potential to prevail in a massive diocesan-wide door-to-door evangelization project. The only thing holding us back may be our passive clericalism, and as if the Pope’s call to go out and evangelize did not have enough authority. Again the problem is lay formation. But we agonize for not having enough clergy radically committed and practically convinced of the epic need for systematic and organized pastoral formation for all lay ecclesial leaders. Take the Diocese of Laredo as a warning for the future! Without formation there is no vision. There is no vision without formation. ¡Without a well-formed vision there will be no glorious future of an evangelized Church, but more of the same modern status quo with mere skin-color and language-accent variants!
- TO ACT
Will the Hispanic future of the Catholic Church in the United States be like the local Church in Los Angeles or the local Church in Laredo? The future will all depend on our present efforts in evangelization and formation that build our Church towards that future. We must have our eyes fix on Jesus (cf., Heb 12:2) as we work and pray- ora et labora- that the Lord build the house (cf., Ps 127:1) with us. I don’t lose hope of our near future in the Diocese of Laredo and pray for a renewed passion for faith and ministry. We are so close in sparking a spread of the vision! I pray we set the example that “yes we can” have a more evangelized Church!
For Hispanic Catholics to be a blessing for the Catholic Church and American society we must grow in a broad knowledge of the Catholic faith so as to re-awake in it! We need to combat religious ignorance with religious formation and this is why formation ministry is crucial if there be any pastoral hope for the Catholic Church in the United States.
As president of our humble national Federation of Pastoral Institutes, I raise my prophetic voice on behalf and in support of those of us dedicated to faith and ministry formation within the Church to declare and affirm that for Hispanic Catholics to be the true pastoral Hope needed for the Catholic Church in the United States, organized formation must not be ignored nor neglected, but rather supported and reinforced! The directors of pastoral formation programs and institutes are truly “Builders of the Present and the Future of Our Church”, like the title of our newly published manual says. If evangelization is about making disciples, we must make organized pastoral formation a priority! We must found, strengthen and promote organized pastoral formation programs or institutes at the local, diocesan, regional and national levels! We must take advantage of those formation programs and institutes and tend to them as if the present and the future of our Catholic Church depended on it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Federation of Pastoral Institutes (FIP) stands firm as it celebrates its pearly 30th anniversary as a little precious pearl hidden to many but revealed only to those few colleagues in formation ministry who know its worth. They and the FIP represent pastoral formation ministry that is worth the present and the future of our Catholic Church!
May God bless us and our service in, through and with Christ for His Catholic Church. And may God bless America!