The Church in the U.S. should not and cannot ignore the ever-increasing Latino population, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said Saturday, because they are the future of the Church in America.
Before launching into his full Aug. 16 address to the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders national conference in Houston, the archbishop paused to remember and to pray for the young undocumented immigrants on the southern border who “are stuck in an ugly kind of limbo.”
“There’s simply no excuse for the suffering of children and families,” he said. “I hope each of us will find time today to pray for the young people caught in our immigration mess, and also for the officials who need to deal with this reality quickly and humanely.”
CALL is a national organization dedicated to the growth and spiritual formation of the Latino leaders of the U.S. in their knowledge and understanding of the faith.
Continuing his talk, Archbishop Chaput noted that one of the biggest challenges facing the Church in America is creating a just and wholesome society in the face of an increasingly secular culture. But changes in culture, he said, must begin with patterning one's heart and personal life after Christ.
“If we really want God to renew the Church, then we need to act like it. We need to take the Gospel seriously. And that means we need to live it as a guide to our daily behavior and choices – without excuses.”
But this challenge is not new to the Church, and history often repeats itself, the Archbishop noted.
“Sometimes the best way to move forward as a culture is to look back first,” he said, illustrating his point with a story about the Cathars, followers of a dualistic heresy that flourished in the 12th century.
“That can sound harmless to modern ears,” he said. “But their beliefs had deeply destructive implications for the fabric of medieval society.”
Cathars believed that all matter or anything with a human influence was evil and corrupt. They rejected marriage, family life, government, and the Church, and ultimately believed the human race should stop reproducing in order to be free of the corruption of created matter.
Although their beliefs may sound outlandish, Cathars drew in many followers because of their zeal and simplicity, which threatened the Church and the political order of the day.
Even though the Albigensian Crusade was led to wipe out the Cathars, they were difficult to eliminate completely until one man, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, had a conversion and became known as Francis of Assisi.
The purity, simplicity and zeal of St. Francis and his religious brothers soon surpassed the influence of the Cathars, and the entire Church experienced a revival.
“Francis and his brothers in faith were then -- and they remain today -- a confirmation of how God renews the Church through a kind of gentle rebellion against the world; an uprising of personal holiness; a radical commitment to Christian poverty, chastity and obedience in service to the Church and the poor,” Archbishop Chaput said.
But what has St. Francis to do with Latinos and the Church in America?
“The Franciscan revolution of love teaches a lesson that Catholics too often forget,” Archbishop Chaput reflected. “Rules, discipline, and fidelity to doctrine and tradition are vital to the mission of the Church. But none of them can animate or sustain Catholic life if we lack the core of what it means to be a Christian.”
He said that “most of our practicing Catholics are catechized but not well evangelized. Catholics in Canada and the United States may know the 'lyrics of the song,' but they don't always know the tune.”
“In contrast, most Latinos Catholics have a deep sense of God's grandeur,” he said, noting how Latinos have a deep sense of Catholicism and devotional practice rooted in their culture. It is not uncommon to see Catholic art or hear God referenced in public in their native countries.
Latino Catholics are also more likely to refrain from receiving Communion when not in a state of grace because they truly understand the meaning of how the prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you...” he said.
Therefore, Latino Catholics may know the “tune” of Catholicism, but not always the lyrics. While many remain Catholic when they come to the U.S., some fall away to protestant or evangelical communities, or, especially among young people, simply become “unaffiliated.”
And because the population in the U.S. is comprised more and more of Latinos – they make up half of the millennial generation ages 14-34 years old – the Church should recognize Latino issues as issues that will affect the future of the Church in America.
“I believe we are at a very powerful 'Latino moment' in our Church -- a moment that takes nothing away from the dignity or importance of any other ethnic community, but that simply acknowledges, again, that demography is destiny,” Archbishop Chaput said.
The election of the Latino Pope Francis is another example of this “Latino moment”, he said, “because the election of a Latin American Pope dramatically highlights the importance of the Latino community in our country, and it practically shouts out an invitation for Catholic Latino leadership.”
Recognizing that he doesn't have all the answers when it comes to helping Latino in the U.S. grow in their faith, Archbishop Chaput made a few suggestions.
Bishops can attract more Catholics who are Latino in their diocese by providing more Masses in Spanish, as nearly half of the Latino population prefers Spanish Masses.
“As Pope Francis says: 'The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the Liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving,'” he said.
Also important is the teaching of the faith, he said, “so that our Latino brothers and sisters get to own more profoundly the substance of what we believe.”
Finally, Archbishop Chaput specifically challenged those present at the CALL conference.
“Ask yourselves if you’re really putting all your talents, all your efforts, and also your material resources into making sure that Latino Catholics receive appropriate formation,” he said, “from the most basic catechesis, to the preparation of our senior lay leaders, to the education of our future Hispanic priests.”
And so, inspired by Pope Francis and the Holy Spirit, the joy and energy of the American Latino Catholics “will mark the dawn of a new Catholic witness in this, the nation we share and love.”