To Mend Rift, U.S. Church Needs to Embrace Gifts of Latinos. (Catholic Education)

By Diaz, Cesar | National Catholic Reporter, March 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

To Mend Rift, U.S. Church Needs to Embrace Gifts of Latinos. (Catholic Education)


Diaz, Cesar, National Catholic Reporter


Hispanic theologian and El Paso, Texas, pastor Msgr. Arturo J. Banuelas asked one question and provoked another. He asked, "Are we Latinos to be seen as a blessing or as a pastoral problem to solve?"

His 500-plus Latino listeners, jammed into a standing-room-only session at the 2002 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress here, knew what he was really asking: With more than a third of U.S. Catholics now Latino, how will this church effectively minister to an American Catholic people increasingly Latin American in heritage and in religious experience?

To Banuelas, a cofounder of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians in the United States, the answer is simple. "We need to look at the church as a diverse body of Christ. We must, then, affirm the religiosity of Latinos and their daily life."

There were more than 21,000 participants at the Feb. 15-17 congress. Five thousand-plus of those attended the Spanish-only sessions, and that figure climbs dramatically with each succeeding congress.

NCR sought reactions to Banuelas' implied challenge to the church among those Latino participants.

Daniel Robles, a teacher and a pastoral minister at Our Lady of Lourdes in East Los Angeles, said, "The church doesn't know its audience. There's a big rift. Some parishes are doing it right, but when you go to others, you notice it." The "it" Robles referred to is the affirmation or denial of Latino religious expressions by mainstream Euro-American parishes.

Veronica Farjado, a parishioner in East Los Angeles, said there are two sides to the issue. While some mainstream Euro-American churches neglect the need for Latino expression in the liturgy and parish life, those parishes don't bear all the blame, she said.

"A lot of time we Latinos never really stick up for who we are. We need a lot of guts to do so," said Farjado.

Many parishes have responded to the influx of Latinos in their community by offering bilingual and/or Spanish-only Masses. Yet, such efforts only scratch the surface of what Latinos say are much deeper issues between them and the traditional Euro-American Catholic church.

Many Latinos at the Congress spoke about their experiences of Catholicism in traditional Euro-American parishes as "worship from the neck up." Parish worship is seen as "too rigid," and many Latinos feel they cannot express themselves fully in such settings.

This is one reason why Pentecostal and evangelical denominations have been able to make inroads among the once solidly Catholic Latino community in the United States. These denominations have a greater willingness to accept the "affective" dimensions of Latino religious expressions, noted Congress speaker Roberto Goizueta, Boston College theology professor.

Armando Robles, brother of Daniel, said Latinos also face a language difficulty in building support for their cultural expression of religion.

Nearly one in 10 Latinos in the United States doesn't speak Spanish, and when they attend Spanish-only religious services, said Robles, "they can't relate spiritually. But, they also know they don't want to lose this part of their culture."

Robles said that pastoral ministers working in such parishes need to be aware of the many language and cultural differences that exist within the U.S. Latino culture. The success of such communities with Spanish and non-Spanish speaking Latino populations, he said, lies in a commitment to build a community that integrates many aspects of Latino religious and cultural expressions. …

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