Many times the contribution that the Catholic Hispanic deposits in the collection of the church is not what many pastors would like to receive. Some of them may even think that they are not as generous to the church. The truth is that Hispanics split their small income between sustaining family in this country, and sending money to their families or relatives in their country of origin; therefore, the money left for the church may appear very little, but in fact is very generous.
Also, a large percentage of Hispanic families do not register into the parish, either because they do not understand the importance of this for the administration of the community, or because they fear being identified and deported. Those who are registered, seldom use envelopes for collections to make their financial contribution because they feel that only God should witness the offering and to receive a discount on the taxes for this donation makes their offering less generous.
However, the contribution that the church is receiving and can still receive from these people, is invaluable: in fact, the parishes that have opened their doors to immigrants and welcomed them and allowed them to celebrate their faith, are experiencing the enormous generosity of Hispanics giving his or her free time, talents and deep experience of faith, serving the community. The ministries are multiplying and can easily be seen in many parishes with a Hispanic presence; at least 35 percent of the participants belong to a ministry.
Hispanics are equally generous in attending meetings, prayer groups and liturgical celebrations, although these are put in the most inconvenient times such as 8:30 p.m. when the parish hall is not occupied by the Anglo community, or 1 p.m. on Sunday, when nobody else would dream of going to church.
However, in all parishes with Hispanic presence, the masses are always crowded with participants.
Those who we are close to the Hispanic community find that the reason for such faith and dedication to the church is somehow related to their migration experience. Each one of the people who fill our churches not only has in common the Hispanic language but the fact that in order to come to this country, everyone had to leave behind their world, their language, their customs and even their loved ones. Some of them crossed the border with no documentation, risking their lives with a few belongings and a gallon of water. They left because their families did not have enough to survive; and in order to help them, they had risked their own lives. Whether they have come with a visa or not, this experience of dispossession, perilous conditions and lack of the securities that we know, made them believe that God is the most significant being in their lives and their only wealth. This experience has allowed them to discover a sense of faith and total surrender to God. That is why their service to the church is the best way to thank God for his paternal and providential protection during the migration process and installation in this new country.
It is also true that many have been lost; after so much abandonment and disposition to faith, eventually they had surrendered to consumerism and the sins of this society. The need of immigrants to be welcomed and supported in forming community in their local churches cannot be stressed enough.
It is important for the American Church to understand that in their Hispanic parishioners, they can find living witnesses of faith and hope in God to renew our faith. It is important to see in the immigrant a brother in need of welcome who, lacking most things, may end up losing his soul, too, for lack of a church to show the catholic and loving face of God.
Dr. Dora Tobar has a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. She teaches at several lay formation institutes and is part of the Ignatian spiritual retreats team.