NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, APRIL 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The largely Catholic Hispanic population in the United States is the largest ethnic minority in the country, making this group a special priority of the Church.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Pedro Nuñez of the Archdiocese of New Orleans talks about the expansion of Catholicism in the United States through the immigration of Hispanics, now numbering almost 42 million, and what he sees will be the effect of the pontificate of Benedict XVI on the Latino population as a whole.
A native of Cuba, Father Nuñez has been working for three decades in New Orleans, where he has established and directs two radio and television programs.
Q: What are the main challenges facing the Catholic Church in the United States and, specifically, the Church of Hispanic origin?
Father Nuñez: The Catholic Church is facing several challenges. First of all, the great expansion of the Hispanic population in the United States means that a greater number of priests, including Hispanic, are needed to serve it. We are very few.
And the second issue is that we need to be far more sensitive both to the spiritual as well as the cultural needs of the Hispanic community.
Q: Is there a real expansion of Catholicism in the United States?
Father Nuñez: Yes, it is growing, but very especially because of the arrival of Hispanics in this country, as we are coming here with our Catholic roots.
Q: Can the Hispanic immigrant evangelize?
Father Nuñez: The immigrant is called to evangelize; he is called to take Jesus to other people as he has the same calling as any baptized person. Regardless of who the person, the call applies to all.
Q: What influence will Pope Benedict XVI have on the Catholic Church in the United States?
Father Nuñez: I think he will clarify much confusion that exists at present.
One of his favorite words is relativism. And relativism means that one can do whatever one pleases so long as one considers it to be good, without paying much attention to what the magisterium of the Church says.
This Pope is going to help us to define many things of a doctrinal nature. He will not only clarify concepts, but he will also help us to put them into practice.
Q: Can you mention one of these confusions?
Father Nuñez: A very important one is the confusion we are living in regard to the family. Another has to do with the Church’s relationship with young people.
This Pope — although much of the media refuses to acknowledge it — is very connected and very interested in young people. Young Hispanics, especially in the United States, are in no-man’s-land. They don’t feel they are Hispanics, or Anglo-Saxons, or adults or children. They feel very marginalized.
I think this Pope is going to do much for young people, especially Christian young people, so that they have their own identity within the Catholic Church.
Q: What might be, in brief, the Catholic identity that young Hispanics must keep in mind?
Father Nuñez: To be strongly attached to the doctrine of the Church. Human beings today, particularly young people, are searching profoundly for God. The Pope is an extraordinary figure for unity and for making Christ visible on earth.
Q: Is there a new hope in the Catholic Church in the United States given Pope Benedict XVI’s first meetings with Catholics from all over the world?
Father Nuñez: I think so, definitely. His very gentle face, his gentle ways, will bring the faithful closer to God. The world must experience the presence of Jesus, in a country and a world where God doesn’t seem to count at all.
Q: And do Hispanic priests feel that they will have a close relationship with the Holy Father?
Father Nuñez: He is very keen on priests being true pastors, practicing their ministry as God ordains and the Church requests. He is going to ask great fidelity of priests.
He is also going to ask this of professors of Catholic universities: They must carry out the secular teaching that corresponds to them, but they also must begin to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. In this connection, we are beginning to see a rebirth of Christianity here in the United States.