Hispanics Tackle Leadership Deficit

Article excerpt

Black churches in the United States have always served as training grounds for black leaders, men and women who serve their congregations and the community at large. For a variety of reasons, the Catholic church has not played this role in the history of U.S. Latinos. But this situation may change, thanks to an ambitious program initiated by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministries, an organization of 53 Catholic Hispanic organizations.

At Holy Cross Retreat House in Las Cruces, N.M., Aug. 27-29, Latino lay leaders will hear from their counterparts in the secular world about aspects of leadership, including conflict resolution, strategic planning, fundraising and promoting diversity.

The 40 participants met last spring in six major U.S. cities; they will meet again next year in Chicago. The Hispanic Leadership Initiative Program, as the effort is called, was kicked off last year with $320,000 from the Lilly Endowment.

Program leaders plan to produce a curriculum and study guide by next May, based upon the workshops, for use by the wider church. The endowment has asked National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministries -- NCCHM -- to continue developing the program.

"We're trying to create a new chemistry" between the church and civic-minded Latinos, said Jesuit Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, NCCHM's executive director. The program also aims at helping Latinos "to be more intentional about leadership," by asking some basic questions about what it is and how it works, he said.

The health of the entire church depends in large part upon developing strong Latino leaders, because Latinos are expected to form the majority of U.S. Catholics in the near future.

"Now it's no longer a question of one important minority in the church. What we're talking about is ... how can Latinos take responsibility for the entire church?" Deck said.

I recently spoke with Deck in Tucson, Ariz., along with Adela Flores, director of the initiative program.

Flores said that in the two-day workshops, laypeople are learning nuts-and-bolts skills rarely taught in churches. …