By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — “Hispanic ministry is rooted in the idea that we are all one family,” said Miguel Salazar, diocesan Director of Hispanic Ministry. “We have an obligation to be welcoming to each other, in our jobs, in our schools, in our parishes and in our lives!”
When a person arrives in an unfamiliar country, there are inherent challenges. The language, the laws, the culture, climate and religious traditions may be difficult to comprehend. For the traveler, the challenges are accepted as part of the experience. For the immigrant, however, they can be overwhelming.
As the percentage of Hispanics in this country increases, Hispanic ministries work to help integrate Hispanic pastoral and cultural issues into the Catholic Church in America.
A recent Pew study indicates that 61 percent of Mexican immigrants and 59 percent of Dominican immigrants identify themselves as Catholics, while high percentages of Salvadoran (42 percent), Puerto Rican (45 percent) and Cuban (49 percent) immigrants also say they are Catholic. Overall, more than half the Hispanic immigrants in the U. S. are Catholic.
As of the latest estimates, Hispanics make up 16 percent of the U.S. population and overall, 51 percent of all U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. By 2050, it is estimated that one in three Americans will be Hispanic.
In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Salazar said, about 85,000 Hispanics claim Catholicism, although only about 1/5 are registered in parishes.
“We care about these people,” Salazar said, “and want to see them succeed in life.”
Hispanic ministry, bilingual and inclusive, works to build bridges connecting Anglo and Latino cultures. Salazar explained, “We work to show hospitality, seeing Christ in the stranger who knocks on our door, as the Benedictines do. One of the ministry’s goals is enculturation and integration — the understanding and blending of faith, culture and language.”
As such, the ministry provides opportunities for interactive learning of each other’s cultures, including theological terms, especially geared toward the youth.
“The kids are the heart of this ministry,” Salazar said. “They are living between the two worlds — Anglo and Latino; a big part of the ministry seeks to smooth out the language and cultural tension. But we are not reaching them as we want to. We need more bilingual youth ministers.”
Right now there are eight parishes in the diocese with active Hispanic/Hispanic Youth ministries —St. Patrick in St. Joseph, St. Sabina in Belton, Our Lady of the Presentation in Lee’s Summit, St. Mark’s in Independence, Holy Cross, St. Anthony and Our Lady of Peace in Old Northeast Kansas City, and Sacred Heart – Guadalupe on the West Side.
Realizing that the language barrier isn’t the biggest challenge faced by young immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Hispanic Youth Ministry focuses on bridging the cultures: keeping cultural and religious traditions, professing the faith, while accepting the language, cultural norms and mores of Americans. They need the tools to integrate, enculturate and succeed.
“One big difference between Latino and Anglo teens and young adults,” Salazar pointed out, “is the family influence. Hispanic youth and young adults view the family as extremely important to their identity. The family is a kind of domestic ‘church:’ everything we learn comes from our family. Hispanic Ministry/Youth Ministry has to connect with the families, make them feel welcome, accepted and important to us. The families will help us connect with the youth.”
He added that “as the family is central to Hispanic culture, to integrate youth into adulthood and keep them in the Church, we need to bring the whole family into the recipe. Parent participation in sacramental preparation, especially Holy Communion and Confirmation, affirms the faith and the Church for the youth, so we should encourage it.”
Nationally, Hispanic youth is one of the most underserved sectors in the whole Church, he said.
Edith Montes, Hispanic Youth Coordinator, is developing several programs designed to bring Latino youth and young adults together, to teach and learn from each other, and help them see that “in the Church, you have a voice, you have position, and you can communicate.” The programs include faith formation; monthly youth group meetings; a newly formed leadership team, and retreats.
The second annual Hispanic Youth Conference, to be held Aug. 16 at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, will bring together Hispanic teens and young adults from the four corners of the diocese, for a day of talks, discussion, formation and prayer. Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Robert W. Finn.
Montes is excited about the upcoming conference as St. Teresa’s students will be working at the conference and learning more about their Hispanic peers. One of the goals of the Hispanic Youth Ministry is to help the youth feel comfortable with Americans. Both Montes and Salazar are confident the conference will be a step in the right direction.
In order to be welcoming, Salazar added, “we need to re-look at how we approach Hispanic culture. Spanish-speaking people, from different nations, are all too often viewed the same way — stereotypically — as gangsters or shiftless individuals who don’t want to work but want the benefits of working, etc. Developing a missionary outlook, as opposed to an immigrant view, can help transform the way Americans see Hispanics and how Hispanics view Americans.
“We have to take the mission of the Gospels seriously,” Salazar said, “get out of our comfort zone, reaching out to those who are living on the peripheries, the urban core people, as most Hispanics in this society are. Christ is the only one who can change minds and mindsets, but if we are missionaries, we can begin transforming outlooks and perspectives.”
Hispanic Ministry can help by providing opportunities for interactive learning of each other’s cultures. Understanding and being open to different cultures leads to cultural competency, which can lead to empowerment. This fits right in line with Pope Francis’ call for the new evangelization — a cultural evangelization. Salazar describes cultural evangelization, leading people toward the faith and the sacraments, as a first coat of paint. Hispanic Ministry/Youth Ministry seeks to keep applying layers of paint, building a deeper relationship with Christ, he said.
“The ministry specializes in promoting the art of integration,” Salazar said. “Integration involves cross-cultural awareness, consciousness and appreciation. It takes skills, especially listening. By really listening to what people of other cultures are saying, we can appreciate your culture while we celebrate our own.”
The new evangelization, both of faith and of culture, is a blessing, a challenge, and it touches the whole Church, he said. “It’s a huge opportunity to put into practice what our Lord teaches us — to go into all nations and preach the Gospel. It’s good for everybody!”