San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez invited participants at the "Camino a Emaús" conference at Notre Dame two weeks ago to offer their suggestions on how to improve Hispanic ministry in the United States. At the time the lines at the microphones were so long and the time was so short that I did not get up. This is my 2-cents worth:
1. Acompañamiento in Immigration Reform: Our bishops have been good about issuing collective statements on immigration reform but too often we don't see them in person at the major rallies or testifying on our behalf at Congressional hearings or in the state legislatures. It is beautiful to see all the clergy who turn out for the National Right to Life March. Where are they when it comes to protecting our people?
This is a missed opportunity for evangelization because, believe me, the evangelico pastors are there y predican bien bonito and their followers are in the crowd passing out cards and pamphlets. And our people are saying, as one hermana did to me after a big local immigration march: "¿Dónde está nuestro obispo?" "Why doesn't he march with us like Cardinal Mahony?" Good question, and one that can be asked of too many of our bishops.
2. Importing Priests: Given the Hispanic vocations crisis, which will not be eased until the Vatican lifts the mandatory celibacy requirement on Catholic clergy (I know we disagree on this point, but es la pura verdad y hay que decirlo), most of us are solving our staffing problem in part by importing foreign priests. According to Padre Hoyos, who has become somewhat of an expert at this process, the tightening of immigration under the previous administration has made bringing in foreign religious workers increasingly difficult. Would it be possible for the Bishops' Conference, as well as prominent Hispanic Catholic leaders who have the Obama administration's ear such as Dr. Arturo Chávez and Dr. Miguel Diaz, to suggest to the President that he explore ways to cut the red tape and make it easier for us to bring in the priests we need?
3. Permanent Deacons: We could also significantly improve our pastoral care of Hispanics by accepting reality and figuring out alternative staffing patterns rather than waiting for a miracle. Every diocese with a significant Hispanic Catholic population should be:
a) promoting Hispanic vocations to the permanent diaconate;
b) providing deacon training programs in Spanish that are accessible pedagogically to those with less than a college education and logistically to those with full-time jobs;
c) setting a goal of placing at least one part-time Spanish-speaking deacon in every parish that has a Hispanic congregation but not a Spanish-speaking priest in residence.
I am aiming for deacons rather than pastoral associates, even though women are excluded from this role, because under canon law deacons can perform more functions, and if we don't have time to wait for the Vatican to approve a married priesthood, we sure don't have time to wait for women deacons. Our people need pastoral care NOW and if they don't get it, they WILL go over to the evangelicos.
4. More Masses in Spanish: It is disgraceful that in a large diocese like Arlington, Virginia, there is not one single Mass in Spanish offered before noon on Sunday. In fact, most are clustered around 1 p.m., even in geographically adjacent parishes. So Hispanics who want to -- or have to -- attend a morning Mass must settle for one in English which they may or may not understand.
Also, you spoke of the importance of daily Mass in encouraging your vocation, yet daily Mass in Spanish is not available to most Hispanic Catholics in this country due to the priest shortage. Part of my objective in suggesting a broader permanent deacon program would be to at least make daily "Liturgy of the Word" with distribution of pre-consecrated hosts available for our people.
5. Cultural Diversity within the Hispanic Church: We need to do a whole lot more research and training on the pastoral aspects of ministering to culturally-diverse communities within our own Hispanic Catholic population. I enjoyed MACC's Hispanic pastoral training program but if there is one area it does not adequately address, this is it. Now, as they say, they are the "Mexican-American Catholic College", not Bolivian-American or Peruvian-American or Salvadoran-American, but they are one of the premiere institutions dealing with Hispanic ministry, they are no longer just a Southwest phenomenon, and our Hispanic parishes are no longer just Mexican, even in the Southwest. It's time to rise to the challenge.
Also, our seminaries need to be preparing priests on how to manage communities that may be monolingual but still culturally diverse rather than viewing Hispanic Catholics as one undifferentiated bloc. If we don't prepare our priests, they will be in for a rude awakening when they get into the real world and have to figure out what to do when the Virgen de Copacabana and El Salvador del Mundo fall on the same feast day.
These are a few of my insights based on years of worshipping in a culturally-diverse Hispanic community without a full-time priest. Anything you can do to help us get the level of pastoral care we need before more Hispanic Catholics defect to the Protestant churches or simply to no religious observance whatsoever, will be greatly appreciated.