Hispanic Leaders Set to Walk With US Bishops

Prelates Reflect on Changing Profile of Church Membership

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CHICAGO, OCT. 5, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A national Catholic group of Hispanic leaders took up the five priorities set by the U.S. bishops as the focus for an annual «Raíces y Alas» conference.

The Sept. 23-26 conference, sponsored by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, was addressed by Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The cardinal stressed the importance of Hispanic ministry as Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, and make up some 35% of the nation’s Catholics.

According to USCCB data, since 1960, Hispanics have contributed 71% of the growth of the Catholic Church in the country, and more than 50% of Catholics younger than 25 are of Hispanic descent. As well, almost 70% of Latinos in the United States consider themselves Catholics.

This trend is projected to continue, with estimates putting the Latino population of the United States in 2050 at more than 102 million.

The cardinal stressed the responsibility that Hispanics have and the challenge of remaining with the Church amid the growth of secularism and missionary Protestant groups.

The USCCB priorities taken up by the conference are family, faith formation and sacramental practice, young people and vocations, life and dignity of the human person, and diversity with special emphasis on Hispanics.

Too silent

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, noted the challenges facing the Hispanic Catholic community.

He deplored «the silence of the Hispanic family on subjects of sexuality, a silence of which the dominant culture takes advantage,» and the existence of domestic violence and remnants of a machismo culture.

Bishop Soto summed up the greatest challenges as spanning immigration, poor school results, lack of access to the health care system, the high level of Hispanics in prisons, the lack of employment, the lack of participation in politics and the Church’s weak connection with the labor movement.

«It is essential that the Catholic Hispanic people be involved in these subjects,» he said.

New face

Conference speakers addressed the changing reality in the country and in the Catholic Church.

«The majority of Catholics is no longer of European descent,» pointed out Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, who heads the USCCB office of cultural diversity.

Statistics support this new reality: Hispanics constitute 25% of all the laity involved in diocesan programs of formation for the ministry. There are also a growing number of Latino priests, permanent deacons and bishops. In fact, about 40 of the U.S. bishops are of Hispanic descent, 26 of whom are active.

Also addressing the conference were Bishop Félix Lázaro Martínez of Ponce, Puerto Rico; Auxiliary Bishop Francisco González of Washington, D.C.; Auxiliary Bishop Felipe Estévez of Miami; and Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo García-Siller of Chicago.

The National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry has 64 member-organizations working in the United States.

[With the contribution of Araceli M. Cantero]
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