In a Monday speech at Boston College, Archbishop of San Antonio José H. Gomez addressed a national symposium about the challenges and opportunities facing Hispanic Catholics in the United States. Noting the “aggressive” secular culture and “material and spiritual poverty” among Hispanics, he called for better education about their own history and the “fullness of the Gospel.”
Speaking as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity before the National Symposium on the Present and Future of Catholic Hispanic Ministry in the United States, Archbishop Gomez discussed how leaders should address major challenges at a time when Hispanics are poised to become a numerical majority.
In his address, titled “La predicación y la enseñanza: Evangelization, Education, and the Hispanic Catholic Future,” the archbishop mentioned such problems as a consumerist approach to religion and certain Protestant preachers’ exploitation of the “poverty and insecurity” of Hispanics.
He also named racism as a difficulty, saying its impact had been exposed in the country’s “ugly, unproductive, and unfinished” immigration debate. He suggested Hispanics’ feelings of being scapegoated in society and marginalized in Catholic life could make them look elsewhere.
However, Archbishop Gomez said the most serious problem Catholic Hispanics face is the “dominant culture” in the United States which is “aggressively, even militantly secularized.”
“This is a subject that unfortunately doesn’t get much attention at all in discussions about the future of Hispanic ministry. But it’s time that we change that.”
He charged that in the United States the advance of secularism has involved a “deliberate strategy of ‘de-Christianization’” carried out over many years by “cultural elites.”
The archbishop said secularizing forces put even more pressure on Hispanics and other immigrants because immigrants already face “severe demands to ‘fit in’” and to downplay their cultural and religious distinctiveness. They feel like they must prove that they are “real” Americans, he explained.
“A generation ago, we can hardly imagine a Hispanic saying he or she had ‘no religion,’ yet that number has doubled in just the past few years,” he continued.
However, he emphasized the need for an approach to culture that is “broader” than simply ministering to Hispanics.
“Definitely, we need to raise up Hispanic Catholics leaders, and we need a pastoral plan to educate Hispanics in the faith and to nourish them with the sacraments,” Archbishop Gomez said. “But this must be part of a wider evangelical strategy. We need to commit ourselves again to the work of re-evangelization, to preaching the Gospel again to America.”
Noting the rise in high school dropout rates and single-parent families among Hispanics, the archbishop said, “I worry that we may be ministering to a permanent Hispanic underclass.”
Hispanics have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births and abortion, he added, saying these cannot be written off as just “conservative” issues.
“[W]e need to find new ways to keep our kids chaste and in school, and to instill in them the value of education,” he advised. “We need to push for real improvements in public education, and in public support for private education, especially in our poorest school districts. And we need to assemble all the resources of our own network of Catholic schools to meet this challenge.”
The archbishop then further underlined the need for evangelization.
“Hispanic ministry should mean only one thing—bringing Hispanic people to the encounter with Jesus Christ in his Church. Too often, I’m afraid, we lose sight of that,” he said, warning that Catholics should not mistake the “means” of programs and bureaucratic administration for this most important end.
“The proclamation of Jesus Christ must be the criteria against which we measure everything we do in Hispanic ministry,” he continued. “Are we making new disciples? Are we strengthening the faith of those who have already been made disciples? Is the knowledge and love of Christ spreading through our work?”
“My brothers and sisters, it is essential that our people know their own story, our story—the great story of Hispanic Catholicism in the Americas,” he continued, noting the centuries-old presence of Hispanic missionaries, saints and martyrs.
He mentioned by name Bartolomé de Las Casas, a "great Dominican evangelist" who defended the dignity of the American Indians and put forward “some very simple yet powerful ideas” about evangelization.
Archbishop Gomez also recommended reflecting on the missionary work of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit martyred during Mexican persecutions in the 1920s.
“We need to reject every short-cut, every attempt to reduce the Gospel to its lowest common denominator,” he remarked. “Catholic principles can make society a better place to live, but only the fullness of the Gospel can bring men and women to eternal life.”
He added: “To seize the moment, we need to embrace our identity as Catholics. ¡Somos Católicos! That means embracing the fullness of our heritage as Hispanic Catholics.”
He closed his address with the last words of Blessed Miguel Pro, “¡Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!” before praying that Our Lady of Guadalupe watch over Catholics and guide them in their service to her son.