Stressing the importance of personal witness to counter secular trends among Hispanics, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia today praised the work of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders.

"Hispanic culture still has a soul formed by an encounter with Jesus Christ, and the humanity and compassion that flow from it," Archbishop Chaput said Aug. 23 at the association's national conference.

"These things are worth fighting for and sharing with others. Faith matters because it gives meaning to the word 'human' in 'human beings.' It matters because it makes us children of a loving God."

He was addressing the eighth annual conference of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, held in Los Angeles Aug. 23-25.

The association is dedicated to the spiritual formation of Latino leaders and to community service and cultural and educational projects. Its members include business, professional and community leaders.

Archbishop Chaput said he and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles had helped launch CALL to "to create a professional organization that would support Hispanic Catholic leaders."

"We wanted to help those leaders renew the heart of an America that has become more and more confused, and more and more remote from its founding ideals. All of you here today are a testimony to what we hoped to accomplish. I'm very, very grateful to be a part of your work."

However, he warned that the strength of Catholicism among Latinos is weakening.

He said American Latinos leave the Catholic Church "at a sobering rate." Almost 70 percent of foreign-born Hispanics are Catholic, but only 40 percent of third-generation Hispanics are.

The Latina abortion rate is higher than the national average, while Hispanic support for same-sex "marriage" rose from 31 percent to 52 percent between 2006 and 2012.

"I think Archbishop José and I probably underestimated the ability of American culture to digest and redirect any new influence that comes from outside our borders."

"In some ways, the Hispanic social and political profile is barely distinguishable from American national trends. The idea that Latinos, simply by their presence, might restore the moral tenor of our public discourse is a delusion."

He said American consumer culture and its "eager little idolatries" such as practical atheism, "manufactured appetites," distractions, noise, and toys, is "simply too strong."

"As a nation, Americans pay lip service to God on our coinage while forcing him out of our public life everywhere else. And in God's place we've created an avalanche of empty choices and phony little godlings that promise to feed our inner hungers and do nothing but starve us instead."

Archbishop Chaput said this should not be a cause for despair, however

"An immense reservoir of goodness and hope still resides in the world. We need to remember that and act on it."

He cited the friendliness of strangers in Latin America who showed "spontaneous, unexpected warmth" to his friends' son with Down syndrome.

The archbishop noted how those with Down syndrome face many health problems, including early dementia. Many will one day fail to recognize the family members who loved them and sacrificed for them.

While some people focus on the heartache and "bleak" futures of those with Down syndrome, Archbishop Chaput said that the Catholic focus is different.

"No love is fruitless. No love is wasted. Every life is precious. We trust in a loving God who is love itself; a God who pours out an unearned, redeeming kind of love on every one of his creatures; a God who became love incarnate to make all things new."  

Archbishop Chaput said faith is important because "we can't trust a God we don't believe in."

"Faith matters because hope and love can't bear the weight of the suffering in the world without it. Faith matters because it reminds us that there's good in the world, and meaning to every life; and that the things that make us human are worth fighting for. Faith matters because it drives us to do what's right."

Faith can even grow and spread in apparently fruitless times, he noted.

He cited the Letter to the Hebrews' description of Abraham who, though he was "as good as dead," had "descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and countless as sands on the seashore."

"That's the power of faith. That's the fertility of personal witness. If CALL helps accomplish that kind of conversion in each of your lives, if CALL helps you strengthen each other in your Catholic faith and in your vocation as Christian leaders, then God will use it, and use you, to bring new life to our nation."