Reaching out to Hispanic Catholics, including youth — the present and future of the Church

September 24, 2019

The Office of Hispanic Ministries is working to reach out to all Catholics, especially young Hispanic and Latino Catholics within the Archdiocese via collaborations with diocesan offices and parishes. One of the office’s hallmark events is the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration held in December, where generations of families all participate together to honor Our Lady. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — When considering the number of Catholics 29 years old and younger that live in the Houston Metropolitan area, 80% are of Hispanic or Latino descent with the majority born in the United States. To reach this “young Church” with the Good News of Jesus Christ requires a new perspective and collaboration between many avenues.

While the outreach of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese is broader and on most occasions with adults, Director Lázaro Contreras said the office also focuses on being inclusive of the presence and support to young people.

The office is one of 60 ministries supported by the annual Diocesan Service Fund (DSF).

“As one office in the Archdiocese, we understand we can’t reach out to all of these young Hispanic and Latino Catholics alone, but rather through collaboration with several diocesan offices and parishes,” said Contreras. “For this reason, many ministries and groups come together to serve these young people who are the present and immediate future of the Church. This calls us to be those companions in their journey of faith and provide the sacred space where they feel understood, listened to, and have a sense of ownership.”

Contreras said collaborative efforts are primarily with the Office of Young Adults and Campus Ministry and the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization through the support of their programs that reach out to Hispanic and Latino Catholic young people. They combine efforts as presenters and mentors for the youth in various projects both in Spanish and bilingual, including the Basic Certificate Program for Youth and Missionary Disciples.

According to Contreras, the Hispanic and Latino community continues to grow in large numbers each year in the Houston area.

He said at the end of 2016, 2.4 million Hispanic or Latinos were living in the Houston area, which represents an 83% increase since the year 2000. He said it is projected that the Hispanic/Latino Catholic population in the Archdiocese will reach 78.5% by 2030.

“We believe that our office shows God’s love and mercy by listening to the needs of these young people, personally inviting them to be a part of the Body of Christ as integrated members of the Church,” Contreras said. “This helps the young and adults alike to use the gifts that God has given them — ones they can share with others through service in their parishes and as missionary disciples sharing the Gospel and love of Christ to others.”

Contreras said members of the Hispanic and Latino community are very passionate and proud of their Catholic faith. They contribute by bringing forth their strong family values and traditions, spirituality, and love and faith in Christ. He said the young people also contribute a renewed energy, creativity and enthusiasm to carry forth the Church to future generations.

“One of the things that I love about this Archdiocese is the great diversity that we have in languages and cultures, and the many ways we express our Catholic faith,” said Contreras. “Even as Hispanics and Latinos, we come from a lot of different countries and regions. What unites us all, including our non-Hispanic [or] Latino brothers and sisters, is our Catholic faith and love for Christ and His Church.”

Contreras said the vision of the Office of Hispanic Ministry has been the same for the past four decades: To be an agent of transformation for the Hispanic and Latino community promoting its fullest inclusion and participation in the Church and society. He said as a pastoral office, ministry staff and volunteers observe, listen and discern their needs and respond in collaboration with the different Archdiocesan offices and parishes, as well as with other Catholic and secular organizations.

“We do this through what we call Communion in Mission (Pastoral de Conjunto) that functions as an interactive center of communications for the Hispanic/Latino community,” said Contreras. “An important element is providing support and consultation to pastors and parishes on its needs and offering programs in leadership formation and inclusion or intercultural competencies for ministers. Much of the direct contact is through the ministries and Sacraments in our parishes.”

To show how active this community’s faith life is, Contreras said there are currently 213 weekly Masses celebrated in Spanish in about 100 parishes and missions in the Archdiocese. Some churches will offer up to five Masses in Spanish on any given Sunday.

Contreras said it is through the generosity of the faithful in the Archdiocese that allows the Office of Hispanic Ministry to accompany Hispanic and Latino Catholics on their spiritual journeys.

“Through the DSF, we can continue our work in collaboration with diocesan offices and other organizations to provide leadership formation programs, which allows this community to respond to the call of the New Evangelization,” said Contreras.

“We are able to help them become witnesses of God’s love and bring their God-given gifts to the Lord to serve the entire Church and build the Kingdom of God in our midst.”

Because of the DSF, many programs and services are available through the Office of Hispanic Ministry. One outreach is radio communications that provides a daily reflection of the Gospel aired on various Catholic and mainstream radio stations. This helps to reach Catholics that might not be connected to a particular parish.

Also offered to Hispanic and Latino parish leaders is the opportunity to attend a national conference, V Encuentro, which is a gathering of the whole Church to listen and reflect on the needs, challenges, dreams, hopes and aspirations of this community in the U.S.

“Last year we were able to take the third-largest delegation to the V Encuentro in the United States and felt very proud and blessed for being able as an Archdiocese to be participants of such a historical moment in the Church,” said Contreras. “V Encuentro inspired the theme of our Annual Hispanic Ministry Conference that also welcomes many brothers and sisters who minister to Hispanic/Latino Catholics, but whose language of preference is English.

For the first time, we are having workshops in English and making the keynotes and Liturgy bilingual.”

Contreras said another organization that benefits from the office’s efforts is the AMSIF Program, which is an association that promotes the education and integral formation of women, so they have the necessary tools to transform their reality and later share with the members of their family and community. He said the Office of Hispanic Ministry is invited every year to the organization’s graduation ceremony for these women at a Thanksgiving Mass celebrated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo at the Catholic Charismatic Center.

“We like to attend every year to congratulate the women who are benefiting from the initiatives of this group, which does an amazing ministry of evangelization and support to the women by fostering and strengthening them and their families,” said Contreras.