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May 8, 2014

Mercy, neglected church topic -
Religious switching among U.S. Hispanics -
Faith and U.S. Hispanic youths -
Archbishop's stand on guns in Atlanta Catholic churches

In this edition:
1. Study: Parishes serving Hispanic Catholics.
2. Hispanic Catholic teens and young adults.
3. Parish Hispanic ministry: pastoral leaders.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Former Catholics among U.S. Hispanics.
b) Religious switching and U.S. Hispanics.
c) Hispanic youths and religious switching.
5. The neglected topic of mercy.
6. Georgia's new gun law: Archbishop reacts.
7. Internet use and Catholic websites.

1. Study: Parishes Serving Hispanic Catholics

Hispanic Catholics comprise 31.2 million of the 78 million U.S. Catholics and rapidly are "transforming parishes in fundamental ways," says a major study of Hispanic ministry in Catholic parishes released May 5 by Jesuit-run Boston College. While the study notes the fast growth of the number of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., it also expresses concern that the church risks losing this group, which is crucial to its future.

The study's lead author was Hosffman Ospino of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry. He believes the church either must develop a strategic plan to welcome and serve this predominantly Catholic ethnic group or risk alienating them.

"The secularization of Hispanics is the biggest threat to the future of the Catholic Church in America," Ospino said. He noted that "only 3 percent of Hispanic Catholic children attend Catholic schools, and fewer and fewer Hispanics under 30 attend church." Thus, he said, "we run the risk of losing a whole generation of Catholics."

The "National Study of Catholic Parishes With Hispanic Ministry" conducted at Boston College is discussed in a lengthy report titled "Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes." The report is posted in the "BC News" section of the Boston College website (www.bc.edu).

"This is the first time that a comprehensive national study focuses solely on Catholic parishes with Hispanic ministry," the report states. In the early 1980s, it says, "it was estimated that 15 percent of all Catholic parishes served Hispanic Catholics" in the U.S. Nearly three decades later, when Hispanic Catholics represent about 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic population, "25 percent of all Catholic parishes intentionally serve Hispanics."

The report points out that "parishes are among the first places Hispanic Catholic immigrants seek when searching for a familiar experience of community in a foreign land. Parishes with Hispanic ministry are often centers where Hispanics seek spiritual accompaniment alongside support to meet other immediate needs."

Hispanic Catholics "account for 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic population in the United States since 1960," the report says. But "overall, parishes with Hispanic ministry have fewer resources compared to parishes without this ministry. Many struggle financially. Resources are even scarcer in parishes where Hispanics are more than half of the entire parish population."

That means that "these communities cannot invest what is needed to meet their growing demands." The report concludes that "pastoral planning in the near future will require" that more and more parishes "serve Hispanic Catholics, and that service will need to be appropriately resourced." But "in the meantime, more resources need to be allocated to those parishes already serving Hispanic Catholics."

2. Hispanic Catholic Teens and Young Adults

One clear point of concern in The National Study of Catholic Parishes With Hispanic Ministry involves youths and young adults. Here the study sounds a warning bell.

"Hispanic ministry in parishes is essentially ministry with youth and young families, an opportunity to shape a new generation of Catholics," the study report notes. It says that more than half, 55 percent, "of all U.S. Catholics under the age of 30 are Hispanic."

According to the study, 93 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. under the age of 18 are U.S. born. "Any form of pastoral planning and strategy for evangelization in the church today" needs to be "mindful that most of these young Hispanics are likely to be growing up in Catholic households," it says.

Over the course of the next few decades, "much of the Catholic experience" in the U.S. "will be significantly shaped by how the church reaches out" to young Hispanics growing up in Catholic households. Will they decide to call themselves Catholics as adults?

The study asked pastoral leaders in parishes with Hispanic ministry an open-ended question: "What would you say are the biggest challenges serving Hispanic youth in your parish?" The study report said that "hundreds of responses were offered, most of which can be broadly summarized" in four categories.

First, pastoral leaders are challenged by the low level of interest or lack of interest "in church-related activities on the part of Hispanic youth and their families." Second, "dire socio-economic circumstances" in the lives of many Hispanic youths are a challenge. The realities many young Hispanics contend with render "organized religion at the bottom of their priorities."

Third, pastoral leaders themselves contend with a "lack of resources to invest in ministerial programs that truly connect with the reality and interests of Hispanic Catholic youth." Finally, a big challenge for pastoral leaders is found in the "multiple demands that young Hispanics must face as they negotiate identities in the middle of a highly pluralistic context."

On a brighter note, the study reports that in parishes with Hispanic ministry, "the presence of Hispanic Catholics in religious education" is vibrant. In these parishes about two-thirds of children enrolled in faith formation programs are Hispanic." The study concludes that the "large participation of Hispanic children in programs of faith formation suggests the active presence of young families."

3. Parishes and Hispanics: Pastoral Leaders

"Parishes with Hispanic ministry will be notably impacted by major transitions during the next decade as thousands of culturally competent pastoral leaders approach the age of retirement," according to the study of these parishes just released at Boston College.

The study recommends that U.S. dioceses and ministerial formation programs act to ensure that "new generations of pastoral leaders have the appropriate intercultural competencies to adequately serve the growing Hispanic population in parishes throughout the country."

Among its findings, the study reports that 68 percent of the pastors of U.S. parishes with Hispanic ministry "were born in the United States." Of these, it says, "10 percent self-identify as Hispanic. Four percent say Spanish is their first language," and 6 percent claim both "English and Spanish as first languages."

Thirty-two percent of the pastors in these parishes are foreign born. Twenty-six percent of these pastors are from Mexico, 16 percent from Colombia and 3 percent from Peru. But 10 percent were born in Ireland, 7 percent in the Philippines and 4 percent in each of three nations: India, Poland and Cuba. The other foreign-born pastors come from a wide variety of nations.

Two-thirds of the pastors of U.S. parishes with Hispanic ministry "self-identify as non-Hispanic white," the study points out. It says that 22 percent "self-identify as Hispanic."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Pew Study and U.S. Hispanics Who Are Former Catholics: "Most Hispanics in the United States continue to belong to the Roman Catholic Church. But the Catholic share of the Hispanic population is declining, while rising numbers of Hispanics are Protestant or unaffiliated with any religion. Indeed, nearly one in four Hispanic adults (24 percent) are now former Catholics, according to a major, nationwide survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics." (From a Pew Research Center overview of "The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States," a report it published May 7.)

Religious Switching Among U.S. Hispanics: "The biggest net gains in religious affiliation due to switching have been among Hispanic Protestants and religiously unaffiliated Hispanics. While 14 percent of Hispanics were raised Protestant, 22 percent are currently Protestant, for a net gain of eight percentage points. Just 6 percent of Hispanics were raised with no religious affiliation, but about one in five (18 percent) are now unaffiliated, a net gain of 12 percentage points." (From the Pew Research Center's report on its new survey of the religious identity of U.S. Hispanics.)

Hispanic Youths and Religious Switching: "Among Latinos who no longer belong to their childhood religion, fully seven in 10 say they made the change before they were 24 years old. This includes 20 percent who switched before age 13 and 28 percent who did so between ages 13 and 17. The median age at which Latinos report having switched religions is 17. Relatively few Latinos say they changed religions after age 35 (5 percent). This pattern is consistent with the relatively young age of religious switching found among the general public." (From the Pew Research Center's report on its new survey of the religious identity of U.S. Hispanics).

5. The Neglected Topic of Mercy

Mercy, the "most central attribute of God," is a much neglected topic in the church, Cardinal Walter Kasper said in remarks at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York May 5, where he responded to questions raised by Cathleen Kaveny, a Catholic legal scholar and moral theologian.

Cardinal Kasper's book on mercy was praised highly by Pope Francis at the start of his pontificate. The pope said the book did him "much good." An English translation of the book - "Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life" - was published this spring by Paulist Press. Cardinal Kasper is the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Mercy without justice is "cheap grace," the German cardinal said at Fordham. "Mercy is not contraposed to justice. Mercy is the maximum we can do. Justice is the minimum," the cardinal said. "There is no choice between justice and mercy," he commented. "It would be very cheap mercy, which is not also justice."

Justice, he said in an interview with Commonweal magazine published online May 7, is the "minimum that we are obliged to do to the other to respect him as a human being -- to give him what he must have." While "justice alone can be very cold," he explained, mercy considers the actual, concrete person.

God's mercy is not imposed on people, Cardinal Kasper acknowledged. For, while God wants salvation for every person, God respects human freedom. "We can go astray and miss the final goal of existence, yet we have reason to hope God may reach the heart of every person," he stated.

Were mercy to be rendered as a sculpture, it would take the form of the Good Samaritan bent over in a dirty road to care for a set-upon traveler, Cardinal Kasper remarked. Or, he proposed, the sculpture might take the form of the Prodigal Son's father. His outstretched arms are, for the cardinal, "a wonderful image of what's expected of us."

In his Commonweal interview, Cardinal Kasper suggested that mercy not only is God's central attribute "but also the key of Christian existence. … We have to imitate God's mercy."

6. Georgia's New Gun Law: Archbishop Reacts

After new legislation was signed into law in the state of Georgia allowing licensed gun owners to carry a gun into schools, churches and other places, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said, "The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by children and the vulnerable."

The archbishop pledged in a column for The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocese's newspaper, that before the legislation takes effect July 1, he "will officially restrict the presence of weapons in our Catholic institutions except for those carried by the people that civic authorities have designated and trained to protect and guard us-and those who are duly authorized law and military officials." The Georgia Catholic Conference opposed enactment of the new law.

Guns, under the new law, cannot be carried into houses of worship "unless the governing body or authority of the place of worship permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders." But the law reduced the penalty for carrying a weapon into a house of worship to a $100 fine, with no arrest for a licensed gun holder.

"I do not want to suggest restricting firearms in places where they are needed, to protect one's home and property or to defend the public by officials who are entrusted with our protection," Archbishop Gregory wrote. But, he said, "churches and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries -- holy sites where people come to pray and to worship God."

While churches seldom have been "locations where violence has disrupted the otherwise peaceful atmosphere," Archbishop Gregory said that even the occasions when this did occur, "rare as they may be," are not "sufficient reasons to allow people to bring more weapons into God's house."

He wrote, "This new legislation 'de facto' makes firearms more available in places where they may allow violence to escalate." Among his concerns, Archbishop Gregory said that the new law "makes weapons more readily available in places where alcohol is served." He asked:

"How can we who seek to keep our highways safe from people driving under the influence of alcohol justify allowing the presence of firearms in bars and saloons? Are not the same potential dynamics present when people with guns may be imbibing alcohol and less capable of making prudent decisions?"

He trusts "public agents and police officers to secure our safety," the archbishop said. "We may very well need more of them in some areas," he thinks, "and we should support legislation that honors those public servants and adequately provides for their civic duties and needs."

But "will more guns halt the violence that so terrifies us with increasing frequency?" Archbishop Gregory commented that "misuse of firearms is certainly not by any means limited to those suffering mental illness, as we see guns used in the heat of anger in domestic situations, in suicides during fits of despair, in accidents resulting from inadequate training or negligence in securing weapons and in blatant criminal activity."

Instead of "making guns more available as a solution," he said that "we need leaders in government and society who will speak against violence in all aspects of life, and who teach ways of reconciliation and peace, and who make justice, not vengeance, our goal."

7. Internet Use and Catholic Websites

To understand U.S. culture today, "it is important to realize that the adoption of digital communications is fundamentally changing the culture," Helen Osman told a conference in Rome on the culture of the Americas held at the Pontifical Urbaniana University. Osman, secretary for communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke April 8.

While use of the Internet, cellphones and other technologies now is virtually normative in the lives of Americans, Osman said that "the institutions of the church in the United States are lagging behind their faithful's adoption of the new communications." Statistics showing somewhat low use of Catholic websites indicate that "much more can be done," she said.

The U.S. conference of bishops "commissioned a study in late 2012 regarding how Catholics use the Internet to grow in their faith," Osman noted. "An estimated 18.1 million adult Catholics have an online social network profile on which they specify their religion as Catholic, about the same number" attending Mass weekly or "31 percent of the total Catholic population." Yet, said Osman, "only 8 percent of adult Catholics who regularly use a digital device indicate that they use at least one Catholic-related application on these."

But "a larger number of Catholics are aware of the church's presence online." Osman said that 24 percent of Catholics "said the church was 'somewhat' or 'very' visible, while 23 percent said it was 'only a little' or 'not very' visible." She added, "About half of Catholics were unaware of any significant online Catholic presence."

While "Catholics may not be using the new media to connect to their faith as much as the church would prefer," Osman said that "most of the established Catholic presence online is maintaining its traffic or growing."

Osman cited a series of reports from the Pew Research Center being released this year for the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. She pointed out:

That 87 percent "of U.S. American adults now use the Internet, with near-saturation usage among those living in households earning $75,000 or more (99 percent), young adults ages 18-29 (97 percent) and those with college degrees (97 percent)."

That those lagging behind in Internet usage "tend to be older, less-educated and economically less advantaged. Yet even in those groups the majority uses the Internet: 56 percent of those over age 65, 66 percent of those without some college education and 65 percent of households with less than $30,000 annual income."

That "U.S. Americans who prefer Spanish language (over English) use the Internet and have it available in their homes at the same levels as all adults."

Internet use among North Americans "has profoundly changed where, when, how and why they communicate with family and friends," Osman told the Rome conference. She said, "Social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., have created as fundamental a paradigm shift in communication as did the printing press in the 1500s or the creation of writing."