Five Tips for Welcoming Hispanic Catholics Into Parish Life
by Martha Fernández-Sardina
This summer I spoke on holiness and Hispanic ministry at the 2010 Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. A reporter asked me for five tips for making our parishes more welcoming to Latino Catholics, given that Hispanics make up almost half the Catholic population in the U.S., and it is crucial that we help them hold fast to their faith heritage —while helping non-Hispanics understand their Latino brothers and sisters. I proposed the following:
Tip #1: Acknowledge the Hispanic presence, even if you only see a few Hispanics around. If you see an individual, there is likely an entire family; and there may soon be two or two hundred because Hispanics tend to congregate. Find out how many more live within the parish boundaries.
Tip #2: Remember the Church’s teaching that we are all one in Christ Jesus. St. Paul says there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free man, male nor female: we are all one in Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord, equal. We must have this profoundly Catholic conviction to truly embrace, be enriched by, and fully include our Hispanic brothers and sisters into our parish communities. We cannot see ourselves and Latinos as “we and they,” but as “we and us”: one family of faith, regardless of country of origin and ethnic background.
Tip #3: Address the language challenges inherent in ministering to immigrants. Some Hispanic immigrants may not speak, read, or write English. Be considerate: know that many will need opportunities for worship and catechetical instruction in their vernacular language. For others, though bilingual, Spanish may be their preferred language for worship, their prayer language, their love language. This does not mean people should not learn English, but we need to make the parish a catholic —i.e., a universal, all-embracing, and welcoming— home for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Tip #4: Ensure people feel safe in their own Church. Just as we feel safe and cared for upon entering an American embassy when traveling abroad, and are welcome in any Catholic Church around the world, so too immigrants need to feel that, even if they are living in a foreign country, they are at home when it comes to Church.
Tip #5: Follow the U.S. bishops in embracing Hispanics as a gift. Latino immigrants from the various countries of America —as Pope John Paul II insisted we call this one multicultural continent (cf. Ecclesia in America, The Church In America, 1999)— bring with them many qualities that bless us all: the gift of an incarnated and lively faith, which we are to preserve from the onslaughts of militant secularism, aggressive atheism, and intentional proselytism; the gift of recognizing the value of the family, including the extended family; openness to life; pastoral experience; skills as professionals; and the gift of being hard working.
Yes, we can make our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church a model of what it means to be a nation that continues to welcome immigrants as it always had before, a people whose “mighty woman with a torch… her name Mother of Exiles” still cries out: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”