The integration of Hispanic immigrants in the United States will not be possible without the commitment of the Catholic Church, said Bishop Jose Gomez to an audience of Catholic leaders in Philadelphia.
Everyone in the Church, not just bishops and priests, will have to work together to help Hispanics integrate into the U.S. Church and society, he said.
The auxiliary bishop of Denver and native Mexican delivered the opening address yesterday at the seventh annual Catholic Leadership Conference. The two-day event gathers representatives of the most important and influential Catholic ministries and organizations in the U.S. It provides an opportunity for Catholic leaders to reflect upon the most important social and ecclesiastic trends.
The theme of this year’s gathering is the challenge Hispanic immigration poses to the U.S. Church.
The bishop provided a demographic snapshot of the Hispanic community in the U.S. There are about 37 million Hispanics in the U.S. – almost 15 percent of the total population – and 60 percent of them are young. Since their birth rate is higher that any other group, the Hispanic community will continue to grow at a rate faster than any other ethnic group, even it the U.S. closed its borders, the bishop observed.
Politicians and intellectuals are warning against the "danger" of Hispanic immigration, the bishop noted.
“Every single wave of immigrants in our country came with their own share of doomsayers; and today it is not different with Hispanic immigrants,” said the bishop. However, he added, history has shown that immigrant groups have consistently brought further wealth and prosperity to the country.
“The fact that a fundamentally Catholic people is coming into this country may pose several challenges,” said the bishop, “but it is an opportunity and a moment of grace more than anything else.”
The bishop said he sees the pastoral concerns and the struggles of his fellow bishops in Southern states, “where Catholics are a tiny minority, and where Church structures have been completely overflowed by Hispanic immigrants.”
The bishop said the goal with the Hispanic community in the U.S., is not assimilation but integration, which supposes respect for the core values of the culture that is being integrated.
“Catholics do not value mere assimilation,” said the bishop. “We believe in integration, which we could describe as the social expression of communion.”
“Catholics have the universal vision that makes us understand that we are one people,” he said.
“Hispanic immigrants will help to reinforce certain cultural values like the emphasis on family and work, and the Christian character of American society,” he said, quoting Francis Fukuyama.
He provided the example of the San Juan Diego Center in Denver, which was created to provide a range of services to immigrants, namely Hispanics, from pastoral to educational.
The bishop also initiated a gathering of Hispanic Catholic business leaders earlier this year to look at the issue. The group will meet again in the spring to evaluate what has been done in terms of lay commitment during this period.