The Hispanic community in the Archdiocese of Baltimore has grown significantly in the past 10 years. According to the 2010 Census data there has been a 152 percent increase in the population. This is from approximately 58,000 in 2000 to 146,000 in 2010. Conservative estimates affirm that 70 percent of this population is Catholic. The growth has been visible in the 18 parishes with Hispanic ministry. With this new influx of Hispanics, comes a vibrancy and creativity that enriches the whole church.
This past Lent, for example, several communities had live representations of the “Way of the Cross and the Passion.” These live representations have been done around the parishes’ grounds or even through the neighborhoods streets as in the case of St. Michael and St. Patrick. For Central Americans and for Mexicans, live representations are public forms to express their devotion and faith that go back to the 16-th century colonial times. They are great opportunities to catechize children and evangelize the community. I watched one of the live “Way of the Cross” on YouTube, and I was impressed by the large number of parishioners involved in representing each of the stations, the quality of the customs and the devotion of all participants. Particularly, I enjoyed looking at the attentiveness in the faces of the children.
Another opportunity to engage lively the liturgical year comes in Advent through the Posadas, which are becoming very popular not only among Central Americans but also among South Americans. The name posadas refers to the action of asking for a place to stay. It is a representation of the journey of Mary and Joseph searching for an inn in Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth. One life representation, less known than posadas, is the pastorela. In this play, people reenact the history of salvation beginning with the story of Adam and Eve up to the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a simple and beautiful way to keep the Scriptures alive during Advent.
If Lent brings large participation of parishioners, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is equally attended. In the 1990s, Cardinal Keeler started celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral. At that time the Hispanic community had a larger participation of Puerto Ricans than Mexicans. In the 2000s, the Central American and Mexican communities grew as well as the attendance at the Cathedral. Soon we ran out of space for the reception afterward, which is an important part of the celebration. A good celebration requires music, preferably with mariachis, or in the case of the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration at the cathedral, a special choir, as well as Mass and a festive meal. In the last two or three years, the parish celebrations have become more elaborate and for many it is a parish-wide celebration. It begins with prayer vigils the night before the Sunday closest to Dec. 12. It is followed by “Mañanitas,” traditional songs to Our Lady of Guadalupe sung before dawn, Spanish Mass and a reception accompanied by mariachis. This feast has become a time when English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners get together as one parish united by the loving and inviting presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
This wonderful parish growth and big parish celebrations has a downside. It has diminished the attendance in the cathedral or as recently in the Basilica. Priests in the Hispanic community and lay leaders have asked that we leave the feast of Guadalupe in the parishes only and that the Archbishop and Bishop Rozanski visit different parishes on that day. There are plans to have an archdiocesan celebration for a different occasion maybe during Hispanic Heritage Month. This year Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the new multicultural parish of Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon in Highlandtown. It is bitter sweet that after 30 years the archdiocesan celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe will not be celebrated in the cathedral. However, it is a sign of significant growth at the parish level.
It is a challenge and opportunity for the church in Baltimore to respond to this large growth in Catholic population. We need to reinforce the parishes that have Hispanic ministry with priests who respond to the sacramental need of the parishioners and reach out to newcomers who, although Catholic, haven’t show up at the parish doors. We are limited with the number of priests we can bring from Central and South America. In the near future, we will be relying more and more on our future and present diocesan priests and their pastoral sensibility to welcome the new immigrants arriving to our land.