June 27, 2014


The changing face of our family of faith

The Catholic Church in the United States 50 years ago is much different than the Church today.

And the Church we see now will be even more different in 2020—and beyond.

Recent news reports, including a story published in the May 23 issue of The Criterion, highlight studies showing Latinos as the Church’s fastest growing demographic. They also reveal a Catholic Church in America evolving into a more diverse faith family.

So how, as a people of faith, should we address this changing landscape—especially at our parishes where everyone hopes to have their life of faith nurtured?

By ceasing to think of different groups as “them,” and coming to terms with our diversity, according to Hosffman Ospino, Boston College assistant professor of theology and ministry.

By 2020, Latinos will constitute 50 percent of the Catholic population in the U.S., Ospino told journalists and Catholic communicators on June 19 gathered in Charlotte, N.C., for the 2014 Catholic Media Conference. And the changing face of the Church won’t end there.

In the 1950s, 95 percent of Catholics were white. Today, non-Hispanic whites constitute 47.4 percent of the Church, with Hispanics making up 43 percent, Asians 5 percent, African-Americans 3.6 percent and Native Americans 1 percent.

But the National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry released in May, of which Ospino was the principal author, shows that Asians will be the fastest growing demographic in the Church in America in the future.

The Catholic parishes study, conducted by Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, found that Hispanic ministry offerings aren’t keeping up with the rate at which Latinos are becoming the majority in the U.S. Church.

Hispanics account for more than 40 percent of all U.S. Catholics, and 55 percent of Catholics under the age of 30. Yet the Boston College report counted just under a quarter of U.S. parishes as providing some sort of ministry to Hispanics, whether an organized program or Masses in Spanish.

Ospino said that with Hispanics accounting for 55 percent of all U.S. Catholics under age 30, the time is past for treating Hispanics as a subgroup.

“We need to shift the language,” Ospino told Catholic News Service last month. “In many parts of the country, to speak about Hispanic Catholics is to speak about the majority of the Church.” Given that, he called it shocking that only a quarter of parishes have some kind of ministry directed at the population.

“We cannot ignore this population,” Ospino said.

Statistics show how the Latino population has increased in Indiana. In 2000, there were less than 250,000 Hispanics in Indiana. By 2009, there were more than 400,000. Currently, there are close to 500,000 Hispanics in Indiana. In Marion County, the growth is evident, too. In 2009, there were more than 100,000 Hispanics. Currently, there are more than 120,000 Hispanics in Marion County.

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, we have 21 parishes that offer weekly liturgies in Spanish and, as highlighted in a story in the June 20 issue of The Criterion, seminarians are now required to participate in a summer immersion program in Mexico to help them learn Spanish and better understand the Hispanic culture.

But Ospino said that many mainstream Catholics are still playing “defense” in a Church that has changed dramatically around them.

These emerging demographic groups need their “own resources, and we often fall short in making such resources available to emerging populations,” he said.

Ospino offered several practical recommendations for Catholic media reporting on this issue, but we believe the suggestions could be used wherever Hispanic ministry needs are being addressed:

We cannot ignore or dismiss the Hispanic presence in the Church. Doing so puts the vibrancy of our Catholic future in peril.

We need to take risks—even financial ones. We must shape this new generation of Catholics.

We need to develop resources in English and Spanish, including resources to educate Hispanic Catholics about what it means to be a Catholic in the U.S.

We need to develop resources to educate non-Hispanic Catholics about Hispanic Catholics and other groups.

We need to engage Hispanic voices consistently (including journalists, writers, artists, pastoral leaders and theologians).

As Catholics, may we have the courage to see Christ in all faces—Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Native American and all our brothers and sisters in faith—and reach out to those different from us.

Jesus demands no less of us.

—Mike Krokos

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