To say the future of the Catholic Church in the United States is Hispanic is no exaggeration. In fact, it’s quite literally true.
About 60 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 18 are Hispanic, according to the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Only about 55 percent of the total U.S. Catholic population is white.
If the church wants to be led by committed, well-formed Catholics in the future, formation for Hispanic youth must become a priority for dioceses, said Father Rafael Capó during a recent visit to Louisville.
Father Capó is the executive director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) sponsored by the bishops of the United States. He led a day of reflection for Hispanic Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville April 27 at St. John Paul II Church.
Father Capó spoke to the participants — a mixture of young adults, parents and a handful of youth — about the need to develop young leaders.
During an interview afterward, he said, “We have great people; we need to empower and open doors for them.”
“It’s very important to identify emerging Latino leaders,” he said. “They are the majority, but they are under-represented at the official levels.
“Dioceses and parishes should provide quality formation, resources and space to young Latinos to prepare them for ministry to the wider church,” he said. “We need to make them aware they are called to serve the church and make spaces for them to be leaders.”
Father Capó noted that the church in the United States typically has placed Hispanic Catholics in leadership roles within their own communities, rather than in the wider church. But the church, he said, needs “ecclesial integration — valuing diversity and differences, working as one church.”
Tensions between various groups and communities within the church, he noted, have existed since the first Pentecost.
Moving forward, he suggested the U.S. church look to its own history in which immigrant Catholics enriched their communities with the values they brought to the United States.
With that in mind, “Let the Hispanic family values enrich our communities in our churches today,” he said. “Hispanics have much to share in regards to family life.”
Family life was one of three priorities identified by participants in V Encuentro, a yearlong process that included a nation-wide gathering of Hispanic Catholics in Texas in 2018. The process continues now in regions, dioceses and parishes with an eye to planning for the future.
In addition to family life, the priorities are formation and youth. And each is connected, said Father Capó.
The Archdiocese of Louisville has already begun work on these priorities, noted Eva Gonzalez, director of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese. She said four young adults plan to attend programs on leadership formation and Catholic social teaching this summer.
The Office of Multicultural Ministry also offers retreats for young people and families, as well as days of reflection and a couple’s program. These things are a good start, she said.
“We need to accompany our young people in their faith journey; listen to them” she said. “That’s key.”
She hopes to open more opportunities for young people to serve in parishes as lectors, hospitality ministers and in other roles.
During the Day of Reflection, young people and the adult participants responded to questions about their faith and life in the church. Their answers will be compiled and included in a national dialogue, said Gonzalez.
The questions included issues raised in the Encuentro process and ideas related to the Vatican’s worldwide Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, which was held in 2018.
Among the questions and answers were signs of hope and challenges to the church.
Asked to describe their experience of the church in three words, young people said things like “Compassionate, informational and boring” and “family, charity and Communion.”
Asked about a time when their faith made a difference in their lives, young people named sacraments, spiritual retreats and Encuentro.
The parents were asked how the church could help their family and children answer God’s call. They suggested the church offer workshops on controversial subjects, stay active on social media and provide more time with priests and formation.
Parents noted that their kids think some of their traditions — such as family dinners — are old fashioned. But they continue those traditions, the parents said.
Gonzalez said such family and cultural traditions are important to preserve, even as the church aims to empower young people.
“In the end, we are a big family and we need to support each other in unity as the body of Christ,” she added.