.- In a Monday speech at Boston College, Archbishop of San Antonio JosÃ© H. Gomez addressed a national symposium about the challenges and opportunities facing Hispanic Catholics in the United States. Noting the âaggressiveâ secular culture and âmaterial and spiritual povertyâ among Hispanics, he called for better education about their own history and the âfullness of the Gospel.â
Speaking as chairman of the U.S. bishopsâ 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 âLa predicaciÃ³n y la enseÃ±anza: Evangelization, Education, and the Hispanic Catholic Future,â the archbishop mentioned such problems as a consumerist approach to religion and certain Protestant preachersâ exploitation of the âpoverty and insecurityâ of Hispanics.
He also named racism as a difficulty, saying its impact had been exposed in the countryâs âugly, unproductive, and unfinishedâ immigration debate. He suggested Hispanicsâ 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 âdominant cultureâ in the United States which is âaggressively, even militantly secularized.â
âThis is a subject that unfortunately doesnât get much attention at all in discussions about the future of Hispanic ministry. But itâs time that we change that.â
He charged that in the United States the advance of secularism has involved a âdeliberate strategy of âde-Christianizationââ carried out over many years by âcultural elites.â
The archbishop said secularizing forces put even more pressure on Hispanics and other immigrants because immigrants already face âsevere demands to âfit inââ and to downplay their cultural and religious distinctiveness. They feel like they must prove that they are ârealâ Americans, he explained.
âA generation ago, we can hardly imagine a Hispanic saying he or she had âno religion,â yet that number has doubled in just the past few years,â he continued.
However, he emphasized the need for an approach to culture that is âbroaderâ than simply ministering to Hispanics.
âDefinitely, 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,â Archbishop Gomez said. âBut 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.â
Noting the rise in high school dropout rates and single-parent families among Hispanics, the archbishop said, âI worry that we may be ministering to a permanent Hispanic underclass.â
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 âconservativeâ issues.
â[W]e need to find new ways to keep our kids chaste and in school, and to instill in them the value of education,â he advised. âWe 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.â
The archbishop then further underlined the need for evangelization.
âHispanic ministry should mean only one thingâbringing Hispanic people to the encounter with Jesus Christ in his Church. Too often, Iâm afraid, we lose sight of that,â he said, warning that Catholics should not mistake the âmeansâ of programs and bureaucratic administration for this most important end.
âThe proclamation of Jesus Christ must be the criteria against which we measure everything we do in Hispanic ministry,â he continued. âAre 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?â
âMy brothers and sisters, it is essential that our people know their own story, our storyâthe great story of Hispanic Catholicism in the Americas,â he continued, noting the centuries-old presence of Hispanic missionaries, saints and martyrs.
He mentioned by name BartolomÃ© de Las Casas, a "great Dominican evangelist" who defended the dignity of the American Indians and put forward âsome very simple yet powerful ideasâ about evangelization.
Archbishop Gomez also recommended reflecting on the missionary work of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit martyred during Mexican persecutions in the 1920s.
âWe need to reject every short-cut, every attempt to reduce the Gospel to its lowest common denominator,â he remarked. âCatholic principles can make society a better place to live, but only the fullness of the Gospel can bring men and women to eternal life.â
He added: âTo seize the moment, we need to embrace our identity as Catholics. Â¡Somos CatÃ³licos! That means embracing the fullness of our heritage as Hispanic Catholics.â
He closed his address with the last words of Blessed Miguel Pro, âÂ¡Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!â before praying that Our Lady of Guadalupe watch over Catholics and guide them in their service to her son.