In 1983 the bishops of the Unites States wrote a pastoral letter on Hispanic ministry titled “The Hispanic Presence: Challenge and Commitment.” The pastoral letter brought great joy to Hispanic Catholics as they heard the bishops say: “At this moment of grace we recognize the Hispanic community among us as a blessing from God.” The bishops went on to say that Hispanics exemplify and cherish values that are central to the service of the church and society, including a deep and reverential love for family life, where the entire extended family discovers its roots, its identity and its strength. Today this gift of family is shared by millions of Hispanic Catholics in more than 4,500 parishes where Hispanic ministry is present. In particular, the love of family makes itself quite visible through the countless Hispanic children of all ages present at Sunday liturgies in Spanish across the nation.
The strength of Hispanic marriages and families is rooted in a profoundly Catholic culture that can thrive even in the most difficult of situations. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau (July 2009) shows that out of the 10.5 million Hispanic families residing in the United States, 66 percent consist of a married couple and 41 percent of a married couple with children under age 18. On the same note, 69 percent of Hispanic children live with two married parents. These percentages are significantly higher than the median average for families as a whole in this country, which is 44 percent. However, this “success rate” should not be taken for granted. Hispanic couples and families are not immune to the many societal factors that erode marriage and family life today. Moreover, many Hispanic families have to face the direct impact of forced emigration from their native countries that leaves spouses and entire families divided by borders. They suffer further division under a broken immigration system that not only hinders their efforts for reunification, but also separates spouses, and children from their parents, due to deportations oftentimes done without regard for family life or human dignity.
The church can make the difference in keeping Hispanic marriages and families together. The support Hispanic couples find in their parishes and other faith-based communities can be the key to a solid marriage and a health family. Studies show that Hispanic families with strong ties to their faith community are more likely to achieve a higher level of education, as well as economic and social success.
How can the church provide a healthy environment and a sense of community for Hispanic couples and families growing up in culturally diverse parishes today and in the future? The answer to this question is not only found in what we do, but in who we are and how we interact with one another.
First, priests and lay ecclesial ministers need to become more aware and committed to the call to welcome Hispanics, embrace them and journey with them; leaving behind the “we-they” language and moving into the “all-of- us- together” language. We must make the church the home and the school of communion (Novo Millennio Ineunte. 43).
Second, what we do as Catholic ministers should be rooted in the double commitment we have to the message of Christ and to the people with whom we live and minister. This requires solid knowledge of Christ and his message, as well as interpersonal knowledge of Hispanic families in our parish, and the cultural, religious, social and economic context in which they live. Such knowledge is born from our efforts to be good listeners, sensitive and authentically interested in people’s needs, aspirations and ideas.
Third, ordained and lay ministers need to be effective communicators of the message of Christ among people who speak Spanish and have a particular culture and way of doing things. This includes understanding how Hispanic families make decisions, how they learn, how they organize and come together with other groups. Such awareness and commitment help us welcome and empower Hispanic/Latino parents to develop and exercise their leadership in the family and in society.
Let’s work hard to keep Hispanic/Latino families strong for years to come!
Marriage and family resources in Spanish can be found on www.portumatrimonio.org
Alejandro Aguilera-Titus is assistant director of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church for the USCCB.