The Saviors are Leaving! What do We do Now?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Hispanic Ministry in America. After Br. Matt showed me the stats from that post, it is clear that Hispanic Ministry is not nearly as interesting for readers as other subjects I have written on. Well, what can I say, I’m eclectic… But in reality, Hispanic Catholics have been the saviors of the American Church. They stabilize the numbers in the pews, and have resulted in the slight overall increase of Catholics in the U.S., despite the droves of people leaving the Church for other Christian denominations, or for nothing at all.

Since that post, two major studies have been released that narrate a disheartening trend in this segment of American Catholicism. Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College released a study in which he surveyed 4,368 Catholic Parishes regarding Hispanic Ministry. Of the many bright and dark realities that were revealed in this study, two are worth mentioning here:

1)      9 percent of the parishes surveyed thought that the segments of the Latino/a population were fully integrated into the life of the parish community.

2)      Parish communities whose mass attendance is at least 75 percent Latino(a) have an average budget of $404,000, while parishes whose mass attendance is less than 25 percent Latino(a) have an average budget of $870,000.

Two days later, the Pew Research Center released a major study regarding the shifting religious identity of Latino(a)s in this country. The subtitle of the article reveals the gravity of the study: “Nearly one-in-four Latinos are former Catholics.” That number was even larger when looking at the young adult population in the age range of 18-29.

So, when we put these three pieces together the picture is a little… troubling. Parishes with larger Hispanic populations have fewer resources. If parishes don’t have the resources, how can they hire trained staff to help minister too and engage the local community? How can they support programing that will aid in the formation of discipleship? It is little wonder that different Latino(a) populations are having difficulty integrating into parish life.

If these populations don’t feel connected to a faith community, and are not being engaged and challenged to go deeper in faith, it is no wonder that so many Hispanic Catholics are leaving the Church. This is especially true of the youth who are more fully inculturated into American society, and we know how well we ministers are doing bringing young people back into parish life…

I don’t mean to be negative about the Church. I love the Church! And the Catholic faith! But the opportunity to engage and nourish a new wave of Catholic immigrants is quickly slipping away. As I sit writing this post from my office in Boston, I think of all the empty churches once full of Irish, Italians, Polish, and French immigrants that populate this great city. Those people are not here anymore; at least, not nearly as many of them. Hispanic Catholics in many ways have been saviors of the American Catholic Church. What happens when they leave? What can we do to change the picture?


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