Monday, September 26, 2011

Hispanic Heritage Month Calls Laborers to Vineyard

We are in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, and all kinds of events and activities to highlight, celebrate and affirm Hispanic achievement and contributions to the United States of America keep multiplying around the country. In addition to the usual suspects (i.e. National Council of la Raza, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, etc.), every now and then one comes across interesting comments that go beyond complementary remarks to take a stand. Such is the case of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who took advantage of the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take a stand on behalf of U.S. farmers and farmworkers and make a call for immigration reform. Here is the video of the appeal (Secretary Vilsack’s remarks start approximately at minute 8:30). I am sure many farming families and migrant farmworkers appreciate this talk, as do the U.S. Catholic bishops — though they certainly hope the Administration moves beyond just giving speeches on this front.

Since this is a month to celebrate Hispanic heritage, it is also worth drawing attention to a talk that Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles gave at the Napa Institute in California at the end of July. The speech was recently picked up by the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, and even more recently by some “vaticanistas” such as Sandro Magister (Chiesa)

In his speech, Archbishop Gomez cautions about the dangers of distorted readings of our American history, the need for renewal, the Hispanic and Catholic roots of what today is the United States of America, and the opportunity that immigration brings. The archbishop brings to light little known or talked about facts—outside church circles anyway—that are often not found in history books. “When we forget our country’s roots in the Hispanic Catholic mission to the New World, we end up with distorted ideas about our national identity,” says Archbishop Gomez. If you are curious about a different reading of American History, take a read. It is worth every minute of your time.

Archbishop Gomez was at the Vatican last week, together with the president of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), Mr. Robert Aguirre, delivering a response from the membership to Pope Benedict’s Encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” Yes. You read it correctly: a response. The invitation to issue a response was made to the group at a meeting last year by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. CALL members, supported by Archbishops Jose Gomez and Charles Chaput, took it to heart. The authors say they’ve been told it is the first time the pope gets a response to one of his encyclicals, and a friendly one at that, from a group of Catholic lay leaders of any kind. While it would be difficult to verify such assertion, the truth is that the initiative is highly unusual. If you are curious about what they said, the document is being publicly released this week to media. Check CALL’s website for updates or to request a copy of the document “Charity in Truth, Our Response in Faith.”

Finally, a widely representative group of Catholic Hispanic ministry leadership, together with some church management organizations and higher education institutions, are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by taking a serious look at themselves, their structures and the role they are called to play in the context of an ever growing and evolving Hispanic population and of Hispanic ministry needs today in the context of the wider Church. Some of the traditional national and regional Hispanic ministry structures are struggling and in need of realigning to new realities and finding a new modus operandi to stay fruitful and relevant. At the same time, new leadership is emerging. There also seems to be room for an enhanced role for universities and educational institutions, as well as foundations, in the new paradigm.

The letter of invitation states that the gathering—which takes place September 26-28 at the emblematic Mexican American Catholic College, MACC—“will provide a venue wherein the signs of the times may be discerned, and strategies for strengthening national and regional Hispanic Catholic organizations may be identified. A special emphasis will be given to achieving financial stability, internal capacity, and organizational development so that these organizations may be better able to fulfill their mission, both individually and collectively.” It’s a noble goal and a much needed dialogue that has been a long time coming.

Through the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs, the U.S. bishops aren’t just facilitators and conveners of this meeting, but have a keen interest in what evolves from it. The future of a good portion of the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States depends on it. Representing the U.S. Bishops in this dialogue are the host, Archbishop Gustavo García Siller of San Antonio; Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, CA, chairman of the Hispanic Affairs Subcommittee; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chairman of the Committee of Cultural Diversity in the Church and Bishop Joe S. Vazquez of Austin, TX , and member of the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs and the Subcommittee for the Church in Latin America.

While intense days of work and discernment await the participants in this meeting, let’s hope they’ll find time to enjoy the sweet melodies and great food that can be found along San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Not a better scenario could have been chosen to find inspiration for the task ahead.

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