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Hispanic outreach and faith formation considered at national meeting

.- Experts in faith formation and leadership in the Hispanic community of the United States recently met with staff members of the U.S. Conference of Bishop’s (USCCB) Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. Their meeting focused upon the improvement of faith formation among Hispanics and Latinos of all ages in parishes, dioceses, and Catholic institutions.

The meeting took place December 2 – 3 and was facilitated by the secretariat’s assistant director, Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, who is also assistant director of the secretariat’s Hispanic Affairs department, a USCCB press release says.

Participants in the meeting included theologians, directors of higher education academic programs, the chairman of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership Forum on Catechesis with Hispanics, the president of Federación de Institutos Pastorales (Federation of Hispanic Pastoral Institutes, or FIP), directors of Hispanic pastoral institutes, Hispanic ministry and diaconate formation programs, publishing houses and others.

Morning sessions reviewed the state of faith formation among Hispanics and identified “best practices” in parishes, dioceses, and Catholic institutions. Dialogue in the afternoon established “core values” to guide the process and to offer concrete recommendations.

Professor Hosffman Ospino, the faculty director of Hispanic Ministry Programs for Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, discussed obstacles to Latinos’ access to higher education.

Latinos are reportedly severely underrepresented in theology and ministry degrees.

Professor Ospino recommended the creation of new models of collaboration among Hispanic Catholic organizations and dioceses and institutions of higher education.

Alex Sandoval, pastoral associate at Good Shepherd Parish in Garland, Texas, described the development of services to Spanish-speaking parishioners. He noted that some apostolates assume that all Hispanic children or teens speak English or prefer to learn about their faith in English.

Sandoval reported that improved faith formation for both parents and children has resulted in improved Mass attendance, increased sacramental reception, and increased involvement in the parish community. He noted that his parish now offers all services in English and Spanish and 90 percent of its staff is bilingual.

Sister Ruth Bolarte, IHM, of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and president of FIP, reported that there are no common standards among the institutes that provide introductory, basic, and intermediate certificates for catechists, youth and Hispanic ministry leadership. She also described efforts to establish a common accreditation standard.

Dora Tobar, PhD., a former director of religious education from Maryland, presented “catechesis familiar,” a family catechesis, as an Hispanic model to be offered to the entire Church in the U.S. Based upon the place of parents as the main catechists of their children, the program supposes that improving parents’ faith formation helps them exercise that important responsibility. It aims to help parents deepen their understanding of faith and its impact in daily life while making them more aware of the important role of the family as a “domestic church.”

Martha Nuñez, director of the Bible Institute in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, reported that more than 100,000 Hispanic children were baptized in the archdiocese in 2007 and hundreds of new Hispanic catechists are added to the ministry.  She attributed the archdiocese’s success to its formation opportunities in the languages people speak and in the cultural context in which they live.

Overall, the group made several recommendations. These include making a strong push for family catechesis models, approaching faith formation as a gradual process that does not assume one approach fits all, and promoting a diversity of choices and models of faith formation, especially as it relates to languages and culture.

Other suggestions advocated developing programs with “strong evangelization content,” favoring small community settings, working closely with apostolic movements, and increasing collaboration.

The meeting’s proceedings will inform the work of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity and will be offered to several bishops’ task forces. Further, the findings will be shared with national organizations and experts for continued conversation to improve faith formation.


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