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Five tips for welcoming Hispanic

and Latino Catholics into parish life

STEUBENVILLE, OH—With almost half the Catholic population in the United States now made up of Hispanic or Latino Catholics, religious educators are seeking better ways to minister to this growing demographic.  
At the July 2010 St. John Bosco Conference for Religious Educators held at Franciscan University of Steubenville, two workshops given by Martha Fernández-Sardina addressed the challenges of helping Hispanic Catholics embrace their faith heritage — while helping non-Hispanics understand and appreciate their Latino brothers and sisters.  
In an interview following her workshops, Fernández-Sardina, director of the Office for Evangelization of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, offered five tips for making parishes more welcoming to Hispanic or Latino Catholics. First, she said, parishes must acknowledge and appreciate the fact of the Hispanic presence even if they only see a few Hispanic people in their pews.

“Normally if there’s one individual, there’s at least one family.  If there’s one family, there may soon be two and ten and twenty and two hundred, because Hispanics tend to congregate with one another, especially if the Latino or Hispanic family has migrated to the U.S.  So first of all, acknowledge their presence and find out how many more of these dear brothers and sisters are in the geographical boundaries of the parish.”

Second, Fernández-Sardina urged parishes to remember the Church teaching that we are all one in Jesus Christ.

“As St. Paul says, there’s no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free man, male nor female: we are all one in Christ, and so we are all equal.  We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.  We must have this profoundly Catholic belief and conviction if we are going to be able to accept, welcome, embrace, be enriched by, and fully include our Hispanic brothers and sisters into our parish communities.  We can’t see Latinos or any other ethnic group as ‘they and we’ but as ‘we and we.’  It’s us, all together.”

Her third tip is to address the language challenges inherent in ministering to any immigrant population.

“Some may speak English, may read English, may write English, but many may not. So be considerate of that, and know that many times they will need to receive opportunities for worship, especially the Mass, and sacramental and catechetical preparation and instruction in their native language—in their vernacular language.”
Fernández-Sardina also noted, “Even for those who may be bilingual, Spanish may be their preferred language for worship, their prayer language, because it’s their love language and, therefore, they would prefer it, if at all possible.  That does not mean we should discourage people from learning English, which is the official language of this land, but we need to make the parish a welcoming home for all our brethren in Christ.”

Fourth, Fernández-Sardina said, parishes should ensure that people feel safe in the Church of their birth.

“We need to make our churches as safe and as welcoming as possible, regardless of a person’s legal status, immigration status, or background, the same way any of us would feel safe in an American embassy if we were traveling overseas.  When we set foot inside the embassy, we feel safe, protected, because we are in our homeland.  Immigrants need to feel that even if they’re living in a foreign country, they’re in their homeland when it comes to church.”

She concluded by encouraging Catholics to follow the U.S. bishops in welcoming “any immigrant population, including Latino immigrants, as a gift.”

“Their presence is a gift.  There’s a lot that the Latino community brings to the Church that’s a gift to us — the gift of recognizing the beauty and value of the family, especially the extended family; openness to life; and a strong faith. Many Latinos bring with them pastoral experience, many are professionals, and almost all are hard working. Hispanics from the various countries of America—as Pope John Paul II insisted we call this one multicultural continent (cf. Ecclesia in America, The Church In America, 1999)—bring with them many qualities that can be a blessing to us all, especially the gift of an incarnated and lively faith, which we are to preserve from the onslaughts of militant secularism, aggressive atheism, and intentional proselytism.”
For more information on the work of Martha Fernández-Sardina, visit www.archsa.org/Evangelization.
For more information on the St. John Bosco Conference for Religious Educators, visit www.franciscanconferences.com.

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