Teaching Our Faith – Pastoral care for immigrants

Eva Gonzalez

Eva Gonzalez

This series of teaching editorials focuses on the Church’s approach to immigrants and refugees, especially in light of Pope Francis’ invitation to “Share the Journey.”

As has been expressed by the writers in this series, our Catholic teaching proclaims that every human being is a member of the Body of Christ, and each person possesses the dignity of a person created in the image and likeness of God. Our efforts to reach out to others in this spirit is the basis of good pastoral care that provides love and support for those in need.

In 1996 on World Migration Day, Saint John Paul II stated, “In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community.”

The bishops of the United States provide overarching support to immigrants by establishing structures and prioritizing resources to attend to immigrants’ pastoral needs, by celebrating immigrants’ culture, by advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and by calling forth the gifts and talents of new arrivals. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) carries out advocacy and education efforts through its Justice for Immigrants campaign, which provides resources and information that help to form and inform the community about immigration issues.

This structure is mirrored on the diocesan level by diocesan Catholic conferences, such as our own Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which keeps abreast of related public policy issues and provides educational resources on these issues. Legal and social service needs are addressed by Catholic Charities of Louisville.

In our Archdiocese, the pastoral care of Hispanic migrants is served through the Hispanic Ministry department of the Office of Multicultural Ministry. This department is guided by the archdiocesan strategic plan and the Archdiocese of Louisville Hispanic Pastoral Plan, and its ministry is conducted in collaboration with parishes and archdiocesan agencies.

The Hispanic Ministry department works with parishes to organize annual celebrations such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Cobre, which celebrates the heritage of various Hispanic cultures and gives hope to those who suffer. It offers leadership formation to call forth the gifts of those who wish to serve in ministry in a parish setting. It offers retreats for Quinceañeras (fifteenth birthday celebration of a young Hispanic woman) and Advent, and it sponsors camps for children and youth on various topics that invite them to engage in and learn about their faith.

Marriage preparation is offered in Spanish, and the annual Encuentro gathers the community to pray, celebrate and learn with training sessions on faith formation for all ages and with the family perspective so important to the Hispanic community. This department also consults with other ministries and provides practical assistance to better enable ministry to and with the Hispanic community through services such as translation.

Parishes, however, are central in the embrace of newcomers. In fact, section #32 of the USCCB document “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” states that the parishes “must include active efforts on the part of the pastor and parish staff, individuals and families, parish councils, liturgy committees, social concern entities” that are aimed at assisting those in need while also raising up all of the ways in which the parish is enriched by the presence of other cultures.

Parishes in the Archdiocese that serve the Hispanic population provide 15 Masses in Spanish.  They make available bilingual catechetical resources for sacramental preparation and reception, and they offer the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in culturally sensitive ways to those who want to come into the Church. Parishes offer prayer groups, the traditional Posadas during Advent and the Way of the Cross during Holy Week, as well as other devotions and celebrations that nourish the faith life of their parishioners. Our parishes have learned to not only translate the language but to transform their ministry to truly enter into the cultures of those they serve.

Intercultural pastoral care in the Archdiocese has come a long way over the past few decades. Ultimately, however, the effort to listen and build relationships with persons of other cultures is the critical factor in our pastoral response and care for migrants, and that is a task to which we are all called.

Eva Gonzalez is the
Director of Hispanic Ministry
for the Archdiocese of Louisville

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