Hispanic Ministry brings greatest gifts to God, fosters good in universal Church

September 8, 2020

HOUSTON — With close to 2.4 million Hispanics and Latinos currently living in the Houston area, this growing segment of the Catholic population continues to bring its greatest gifts to the Lord through the evangelizing mission of the universal Church.

According to Lázaro Contreras, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese, the ministry’s most important mission is to encourage and empower Hispanic/Latino Catholics to take active roles in the Church and society.

The National V Encuentro for Hispanic Latino Ministry, an ecclesial process dedicated to discerning ways in which the Church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, published a report demonstrating that Hispanic/Latino Catholics are actively responding to the call to the new evangelization.

“The National V Encuentro for Hispanic Latino Ministry proceedings and conclusions represent more than five years of consultation with many different people at different levels of ministry in the Church on the challenges, the dreams and aspirations of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the nation,” Contreras said. “There were more than 28 ministerial areas that were consulted, and it resulted in a set of recommendations for each one of them. This is not only a great recognition of the Church of the large presence of Hispanics/Latinos but also the recognition that we are now more than available and ready to be engaged in the evangelizing mission of the Church in the United States.”

Through the Office of Hispanic Ministry’s efforts, more than 5,000 people annually are served through interaction with directors and coordinators at the parish level, lay groups, and in various programs, such as leadership formation programs, monthly and quarterly meetings, annual conferences, and liturgical celebrations. In addition, Catholic and non-Catholic alike in and around the Archdiocese are reached through its radio programs’ broad transmission.

While some believed the Office of Hispanic Ministry was only focused on the Hispanic community, that has changed.

“In our ministry staff, we have a dedicated group of professionals that have been involved in Church ministry since our youth,” said Contreras. “We complement each other and have a strong desire and zeal to serve the Hispanic/Latino Catholic faithful of this Archdiocese. There are many people, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, at the parish level, from diocesan offices, and Catholic organizations, etc., that also contribute in many different ways to our ministry.”

José Dionicio Vázquez, programs coordinator with the ministry, said current leadership is aware of the importance of creating bridges that strengthen the diversity of the Church within the Archdiocese.

“While continuing to focus on the needs of the Hispanic community, new doors are opening to provide programs for the growing bilingual community as well,” said Vázquez. “Last year, for the first time, our annual conference had both bilingual workshops and workshops entirely in English, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive.”

One instance of building intercultural relationships and competencies among the faithful occurred early this past summer when the country was reeling from strict COVID-19 mandates, rioting and looting in the streets, and other acts of violence. The ministry developed a Pastoral Response Initiative to address the pandemic and the important topic of racism.

“We noticed that there had been an unfolding of protests in our nation and other parts of the world in an outcry for justice due to the intolerable acts of racism of which we believe are attempts against the dignity of the human person as sons and daughters of God,” said Contreras. “The office felt the need to address the issue, and we shifted from providing pastoral care during the pandemic to creating opportunities for prayer, learning and dialogue in combating racism. For instance, we organized a virtual Rosary for peace and unity that was bilingual.”

Contreras said the office also contacted The Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with an invitation to participate in a virtual workshop, in English and Spanish, about its pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: the enduring call to love by the U.S. Bishops.”
The success of these two events was evident in the multitude of responses sent to the ministry.

“As a ministry that benefits from the annual DSF by the generosity of the people of God, the faithful can be rest assured that the contributions they kindly give as good stewards of God’s gifts are put to the best use in reaching those in need, such as Hispanic Catholics through our ministry,” said Contreras. “They are impacting the lives of so many, especially in this time of pandemic. I always share with people that the Church not only nurtures and accompanies us in our spiritual journeys but also at the personal level, addressing the things that affect our daily lives.”

Vázquez agrees that the DSF is critical to the ministry fulfilling its mission and encouraging the Hispanic/Latino community to participate in the new evangelization.

“The Church in our Archdiocese is very diverse, and within this diversity, the growth of the Hispanic/Latino community is very remarkable,” said Vázquez. “The new generations of Hispanics know the priceless value of living in both cultures. They have lived it and now have a serious commitment to their pastoral life and ministry. The support received from the DSF will positively impact tomorrow’s leadership.”

The office is one of 60 ministries supported by the 2020 Diocesan Services Fund annual campaign. It relies upon this annual funding to remain in operation. All donations to the DSF go directly to these ministries, and no funds are spent on the administration of the Chancery.