by Lily Bessette
The Church in the 21st Century Center recently published the latest edition of its magazine, Resources, titled The Treasure of Hispanic Catholicism. This edition focuses on how Hispanic culture is present within Catholicism and specifically how it affects the Church in the United States. On Thursday, February 11th, the guest editor and assistant editor of this edition, Hosffman Ospino and Marilu Del Toro, presented their views as the C21 celebrated the release of the new magazine issue.
After an introduction by the director of C21, Thomas Groome, Ospino Hosffman began with a reflection on why we should speak about Hispanic Catholicism in the United States as a treasure. He explained that the Church is becoming increasingly Hispanic, and that depending on location in the country, the treasure of the Hispanic presence may not be embraced. Hosffman also elaborated on what is meant by “treasure” through the biblical wisdom of Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Hosffman explained that the treasure of the Hispanic presence is its stories, narratives, rituals, practices, objects, buildings, texts, art, and creative expressions of the Hispanic people who are themselves the greatest treasure of Hispanic Catholicism. He stressed that we must acknowledge the treasure, embrace the treasure, enjoy the treasure, and cultivate the treasure. Hosffman noted that although we call Hispanics a minority, they are actually 70% of the Los Angeles population and 95% of the Brownsville, Texas population. Hispanics make up 60% of the Catholics of ages 18 and under. Many people also fail to recognize them as potential leaders, and therefore impede their contributions. He also emphasized that we must embrace them because they are not here to visit - they are here to stay. In order to enjoy the treasure of the Hispanic people, he calls us to recognize the gifts they bring, and then cultivate them through education and participation. He estimates that 8 million Hispanic Catholics are in need of faith based education.
Next, Marilu Del Toro continued to elaborate on the theme of the treasure of the Hispanic population by showing the audience the many young adult faces of Hispanic faith communities that are often ignored by the media. The Hispanic youth are a huge presence in the United States Catholic Church because when they come to the U.S. they look for a community in a foreign environment, and find this community in the Church. There is a strong correlation between immigration and involvement in Catholic practices. Unfortunately, the assimilation into mainstream American culture tends to cause second and third generation Hispanic Catholics to drift away from the Church and sometimes towards Protestant churches. The number of those converting are now increasing.
As a second-generation Latina Catholic, Marilu Del Toro shared her personal story: Her first language was English, but Spanish was spoken in her home, and she felt that it was hard to bridge the gap between her Spanish and English cultures of religion. She felt that she was the “in between,” the types of 2nd and 3rd generations of Hispanic Catholics who slip through the cracks and that have a hard time finding their place in the Church. She questioned, “How do we communicate that we can accept them and that we have a place for them in our Church?”
During the question and answer portion, many people noted that non-Hispanic Catholics have focused on building structures rather than community. In comparison, the Hispanic Catholics focused on ingraining a sense of community have clearly accomplished creating a welcoming environment. Many audience members noted the lack of community in the non-Hispanic U.S. Church compared to the Hispanic U.S. Catholic Church. Hoffsman also recognized that there is an awareness of the need for the whole Church to move toward celebration, but not a willingness to do so. Hoffsman believes that when answering the question of how the Church should integrate, Americans tend to respond with assimilation. On the other hand, the Hispanic interpretation and answer to this question is “Leave us alone because we’re happy here,” which is effectively segregation. Hoffsman concluded the discussion by asking, “We are many families, but how do we bring everyone together and celebrate our differences?”