Evangelization tops U.S. bishops’ priorities in new Hispanic pastoral plan 

Iskali Iskali, a ministry that serves young Hispanic Catholics in the United States, seeks to form active missionary disciples. | Credit: Iskali

The nation’s bishops released their new National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, with evangelization and mission topping the pastoral priorities for the country’s growing population of 30 million Latino Catholics.

Titled “Missionary Disciples Going Forth With Joy,” the document outlines the bishops’ recommendations and priorities for U.S. dioceses, parishes, and Catholic institutions ministering to Hispanic Catholics. 

The plan is meant to be a guiding document in serving the country’s Hispanic population over the next 10 years, leading up to the 500th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2031 and the 2,000th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in 2033.

Chief among the recommendations is a focus on being a “more evangelizing and missionary Church” in keeping with the Catholic Church in America’s historic role in forming “Catholic immigrants in the faith while encouraging them to fully engage U.S. culture and society.”

“This process has served Catholic immigrants from all over the world,” the bishops noted, giving immigrants to the country an opportunity “to integrate into U.S. society while maintaining their rich cultural heritage and Catholic identity.”

The bishops noted that “this process of ecclesial integration and inclusion is lived out within a culturally diverse Church, particularly in thousands of shared parishes across our country.”

Growing Hispanic presence

According to Boston College’s Church in the 21st Century Center, since 1960 Hispanics have accounted for 71% of the growth of the U.S Catholic population. In 2021, the USCCB reported that the country’s Hispanic Catholic population, estimated at 30 million, comprises 40% of all U.S. Catholics. Among American Catholics 18 and younger, 60% are of Hispanic origin, according to Boston College. 

“We have witnessed,” the bishops said, “how our Hispanic/Latino community has reinvigorated the life and mission of thousands of parishes and other Catholic institutions and organizations.” The bishops cited the “profound faith in God’s providence, appreciation of life as a gift of God, love for the family, authentic Marian devotion, and sense of hospitality and solidarity” among the hallmarks of Hispanic contributions to the American Church.

Yet, to meet the challenges of the times, the bishops urged the faithful, especially pastoral leaders, “to prioritize ongoing conversion and daily personal encounter with Christ” and to “proclaim Christ more authentically and deepen our missionary discipleship.”

Red flags: disaffiliation, growth of ‘nones’ 

The bishops noted that the “gift” of Hispanic Catholic faith should not be taken for granted and acknowledged that an ongoing “erosion” of faith among young Hispanics “is undermining the cohesiveness and unity of families and their Catholic identity.”

The document goes on to state that “we have seen a clear decline” in Hispanic religious participation “between the immigrant generation and later generations.”

A 2023 study by the Pew Research Center confirms the bishops’ concern, showing that an increasing percentage of young Hispanics are falling away from the practice of the faith and no longer even identify as Catholic.

To remedy the problem, the bishops asserted that “the more effective our efforts are” in implementing the plan’s top evangelization priority, “the less vulnerable Hispanics/Latinos will be to the proselytizing activities of evangelical Christians and other religious groups.” 

“Equally important,” they added, “is reaching out to those who now no longer identify with any particular religious denomination or tradition (often called ‘nones’).”

To these ends, the bishops said it was “crucial” for “all leaders in the Church, including seminarians and pastors, to receive formation in Hispanic/Latino ministry and culture so that they can successfully engage Hispanics/Latinos in the context of their ministries.” 

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The bishops called on parishes, dioceses, and Catholic institutions to develop “new faith formation models and materials” based on 10 pastoral priorities, including evangelization, faith formation, pastoral accompaniment, youth ministry, immigration and advocacy, liturgy, Catholic education, promotion of vocations, and formation for ministry in a culturally diverse Church.

Parishes at the center 

The bishops said that parishes “remain at the center” of their pastoral action and that “the establishment of Hispanic/Latino ministry in more parishes and other pastoral settings is a high priority.”

“As bishops, we believe that every parish with a significant number of Hispanics/Latinos living within its geographical boundaries needs to establish ministries for them in all dimensions of Christian life.”

A core part of the parish’s ministry to Hispanics is making Mass and other sacraments “more accessible in Spanish and contextualized by Hispanic/Latino spirituality and lived reality.”

The bishops also encouraged pastors to increasingly speak with Hispanic youth, in groups and individually, to encourage discernment of their vocations.

“The Church in the United States has an ever-increasing need to effectively engage and inspire Hispanics/Latinos — both immigrant and U.S.-born — to become priests, deacons, and religious women and men,” they said, adding that “increasing the Church’s capacity to create a culture of vocations with Hispanic/Latino families is paramount.”

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Next steps

The document said that regional teams of Hispanic Catholics will undergo a “discernment process” during 2024 to “see how they will continue their work and what their role would be for the duration of the 10-year plan.”

The bishops also said they plan to hold in 2031 a national celebration of the 500th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, along with the promotion of the celebration of the anniversary “in dioceses across the United States.”

The intention of the quincentennial celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops said, is to both mark and make way for “a new beginning of the evangelizing action of the Church.” 

The pastoral plan concluded with the following prayer:

God of infinite Mercy, you sent your risen Son to encounter the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Grant us today a missionary spirit, and send us forth to encounter our sisters and brothers: to walk with them in friendship, to listen to their hopes and dreams with compassion, and to proclaim your Word with courage, so that they might come to know you once again in the breaking of the bread. Make us all missionary disciples, and stay with us always, as we seek to share the joy of the Gospel with people of all generations, from every race, language, culture, and nation. We ask you this with burning hearts, filled with the Holy Spirit, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and through the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization in the Americas. Amen.

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