Integration of Hispanics necessary for future

October 28, 2014

HOUSTON — More Hispanics need to be in leadership positions, and there needs to be more integration of Hispanics in parishes across the country if the U.S. Catholic Church is to continue to grow and thrive, a Boston College theologian told a 200-plus group at a recent event about the Hispanic Ministry.

Presenting his three-year study “National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry,” Dr. Hosffman Ospino, an assistant professor of Hispanic Ministry and director of graduate programs in Hispanic Ministry, told participants — many of them workers and volunteers in Hispanic Ministry in parishes across the Houston area — that the Church isn’t adequately addressing integration of Hispanic immigrants and U.S.-born Hispanics. 

“Failure to deal with what is happening now will be reflected in 40 or 50 years,” he said. “If we don’t build strong communities in the midst of diversity, Catholicism will decline.”

To better integrate Hispanic immigrants, Ospino said parishes need to provide more children’s, youth and family ministries to serve the needs of what is a relatively youthful population. Hispanic immigrant families, he said, are younger and tend to have more children. 

As for U.S.-born Hispanics, Ospino said parishes have to figure out a way to serve their needs to prevent the decline that has been happening in midwestern and northeastern parishes. In addition, he said there is the challenge of integrating Hispanic immigrants with U.S.-born immigrants.

Ospino said the job now, especially in Texas and California where there is a great deal of population growth, is to provide a lasting infrastructure by building more schools and universities to continue to serve Hispanic Catholics. 

“It is time to craft the Church of the present and the future,” Ospino said. 

Ospino said parishes should nurture Hispanic leadership and value and invest in the people working in Hispanic ministry. 

In his study, he found one out of five Latinos work in Hispanic ministry, and many do it for free. Ospino pointed out that only 10 percent of the bishops and about 11 percent of priests — many of them immigrants, are Hispanic. 

“Representation is key,” he said. “If a community does not see leaders in their midst they don’t feel committed.”

Ospino looked at thousands of parishes across the country and broke them down according to low, medium and high levels of integration of Hispanics. 

He found parishes with high levels of integration were financially stable, had Hispanics in leadership positions, including a Spanish-speaking secretary, offered numerous religious education and activities in Spanish for children, youth and families and offered multiple Masses in Spanish at convenient times. 

He found those with low levels of integration tended to have few, if any, Spanish speakers in leadership positions even with a large population of Hispanics. They also offered little in the way of Spanish education classes or Spanish Masses at appropriate times, and they tended to be less stable.

Some attendees said their own parishes are adapting well to the changing demographics. 

Father Alvin Sinasac, C.S.B., of St. Anne Catholic Church in Houston, believes many of the approximately 2,000 Hispanic households out of a total of 5,000 are integrated into the parish, which offers ministries in English and Spanish equally and is staffed by about an equal number of Spanish and English speakers.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Father Sinasac, who learned to speak fluently in Spanish. “I’d like to see a bilingual Easter vigil.”
However, Father Sinasac said the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston could do more by appointing a Hispanic Spanish-speaking bishop.

At Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe it has been a challenge to unite a fast-growing community that is now at 7,500 families, many of them Hispanics — U.S.-born and immigrants — according to Youth Coordinator Ryan Janse. 

But overall, he said they are doing many of the things Ospino advocates. He said they have increased the number of Spanish-speaking Masses to five, and there are many Hispanics in leadership positions. 

To promote parent engagement amongst Hispanic immigrants, the parish offers a repeat of Catholic education classes in Spanish for children and the parents who don’t speak English.

Ironically, the truly integrated parish of the future, Ospino said, will probably have an English-speaking culture with a Spanish flavor and a staff that represents the make-up of the parish.