Growth of U.S. Hispanic Population a Blessing for Church, says speaker

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Hispanics in the Catholic Church are not a problem to be solved, but a blessing and an opportunity, said Hosffman Ospino in a Jan. 31 talk at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

The growing number of U.S. Hispanic parishioners puts a new face on the church, forces it to renew itself, pushes it to redefine its commitment and presents dioceses with a challenge, he said.

Ospino is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and director of graduate programs in Hispanic ministry there. He is well-known as a leading voice in Hispanic ministry and theology.

More than 20 million immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean are transforming the U.S. Catholic experience, according to Ospino. He calls this phenomenon a “tsunami.”

Hispanics are the fastest-growing community in the U.S. They make up the largest minority group in the country and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they will surpass the 132 million mark by 2050. By then, Hispanics will represent 30 percent of the nation’s total population, according to data from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But the church has not reacted at the same speed to welcome them, according to Ospino. “Dioceses, schools and parishes have been on ‘cruise control’ for more than 70 years and a renewal, a new dynamic, is needed,” he said. “We have to read the signs of the times in light of our faith.”

Immigrants bring along families, friends, talent and treasure, he said. They form groups that adapt to faith communities, thus nurturing the church.

“They look for places to live, opportunities for advancement, and (they) did not cross the border, for the border crossed them,” Ospino said.

Explaining the immigrant experience, he stressed how common it is to find those who are part of such a long and difficult integration process say: “I’m an American, and I am Hispanic.”

Ospino also mentioned the Fifth National Encuentro on Hispanic/Latino Ministry to be held in September 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. It will be the culmination of parish, diocesan and regional encuentros, in which the U.S. Catholic bishops anticipate more than 1 million Catholics participating over the next two years.

“We become the church we serve, that’s why the U.S. church has become a Hispanic church,” said Ospino, who is a new columnist for Catholic News Service. His monthly column, written in English and Spanish, titled “Journeying Together/Caminando juntos,” explores topics of interest to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics.

Latino Catholics represent 71 percent of the country’s Catholic growth. During the 1960s, 10 percent of Catholics identified themselves as Hispanic; today approximately 30.4 million people in the United States self-identify their religion as Catholic and their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino.

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