Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy 40th, Hispanic Affairs

The year 2011 marks the 40th Anniversary of the creation of a national office to serve Hispanics/Latinos at the headquarters of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Washington. The office was originally established in 1968 in San Antonio, Texas, as the Division for the Spanish-Speaking under the Department of Social Development National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). In 1971 the office was moved to Washington, D.C. The charge of the national office was to assist the Church in its response to the pastoral and social needs of a growing number of Hispanic Catholics. Fifty years later, Hispanic ministry nationwide finds itself at a crossroads. The following are the opening remarks given by Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, at the “Emerging Hispanic Catholic Leadership: A Process of Discernment with National and Regional Organizations” meeting last week in San Antonio.

Welcome on behalf of Bishop Gerald Barnes and the members of the Bishops Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs. We thank you for accepting our invitation to make a stop on the journey, and take a moment to discern the best way for your organizations to continue their mission of service to the Church in the United States, particularly among Hispanics/Latinos.

The year 2011 marks the 40th Anniversary of the creation of a national office to serve Hispanics/Latinos at the headquarters of the Bishops’ Conference in Washington, DC. This national office made it possible for the process of the Encuentros to take place. In 1975, the office became the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs and Regional Offices for Hispanic Affairs were established to assist the Secretariat promote the development of Hispanic ministry at the local level. The Mexican American Cultural Center, established in 1972, became the primary agent for the leadership development and formation of Hispanic Catholics leaders across the country.

This structure for Hispanic ministry coordinated the process of the II and III Encuentros, and prepared the way for the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry in 1987. The National Plan significantly advanced the development of Hispanic ministry in the local churches. Many more dioceses opened offices for Hispanic ministry, which in turn led to the establishment of Hispanic ministry at the parish level.

Today, Hispanic ministry is present in more than 4,500 parishes across the United States, and 85% of the 195 dioceses have an organized Hispanic ministry. In some dioceses Hispanic ministry is well established, while in others is just in its beginning stages, but there is no doubt that Hispanic ministry is an expanding reality in the local churches. The vision and growth of Hispanic ministry is also evident in the many pastoral statements and resources generated by the U.S. Bishops on Hispanic ministry, and the countless resources for catechesis, liturgy, pastoral juvenil, theological reflection, family life, and many other ministerial areas developed by publishing house, catholic institutions and organizations such as yours.

The multiplication of diocesan offices for Hispanic ministry, and diocesan initiatives in the areas of catechesis, pastoral juvenil and ministerial formation among others, led to the development of national Hispanic Catholic membership organizations in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Many of these organizations are represented here, and for the past twenty five years have assisted the bishops in their response to the Hispanic/Latino presence and the contributions to Hispanic/Latino Catholics to the broader church and society.

The growth of Hispanic ministry at the local level has shifted the focus and role of the USCCB’ Hispanic ministry staff, now housed under the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church, and of the Regional Offices for Hispanic Affairs, most of which have given way to regional associations of diocesan directors. In the case of SEPI, they have been able to establish themselves as an institution and continue their regional ministry with a strong focus on formation and leadership development. Structures change over the years, but the mission of the Church continues. Difficult times are opportunities for growth as we adapt to new realities.

There are many things that we need to be thankful for during the impressive growth of Hispanic Ministry over the past 40 years, and I take the opportunity now to thank you for all you have done for Hispanic ministry personally and organizationally. We also thank the many publishing houses, religious communities and other Catholic organizations that have walked with us in solidarity over those years. To that number we add Catholic universities like Notre Dame, Loyola Marymount, Barry and Boston College among others, which have become significant partners on Hispanic ministry during the past ten years and promise to be a wonderful resource for Hispanic ministry in the future.

However, we are also aware of the many challenges your organizations have faced in the past, and face today, as you strive to fulfill your mission of serving the people of God. The recent study on the status of national and regional Hispanic Catholic Organizations, commissioned by the Subcommittee, identifies some of these challenges. Many of them are impacted by the present economic situation of the country, while others are particular to the church such as the closing of parishes and reduction of diocesan resources, due to added economic burdens and the growing shortage of priests.

These two days, we gather at MACC once more, to discern the most effective ways to move forward. The contributions of your organizations, both individually and collectively are key to the future of Hispanic ministry and to the entire Catholic Church in the United States.

May these two days be filled with the work of the flame of Holy Spirit burning in our hearts. May we walk and listen to one another in our struggles. May we be ready to listen and recognize Christ walking with us side by side and in the breaking of the bread. And may we get clarity of mind as we discern the best ways to go back to Jerusalem, just as the disciples on the way to Emaus, to proclaim the Good News of Christ.

+Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin

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