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Column: Maybe it’s time to ask why Hispanics are leaving the church

by Father Pat Murphy

At a recent evangelization retreat, a man in his early 30s presented himself to us by saying: “This is the first time I am in a Catholic Church since my arrival in Kansas City.”

These words filled us with hopeful optimism that just maybe this retreat would open his heart to coming back to the church.

It was also good news for me, because recently I had heard several stories of people going away from the church:

• First there was Juanita, a young mom of a six-year-old, involved in the Cursillo movement, who recently decided to be baptized in an evangelical church in Johnson County.

• Secondly, there was Maria, a middle-aged grandmother who was in charge of the liturgical environment in a parish with a large Hispanic community, who decided to become a Jehovah’s Witness.

• Finally, there was Lupita, who had been proud lector at a Spanish Mass at her parish — that is, until she decided to leave the Catholic Church and become a member of an evangelical church where she felt more at home.

All three women had a lot in common — they were committed to the Lord, active members of their parishes and the spiritual leaders of their families — and yet they all felt a need to go away from the Catholic Church. When we hear stories, our first reaction is to ask: “What’s wrong with these people?”

However, as I think about the comings and goings of these three women, it seems to me that the question we should be asking is: “What’s wrong with us that, as a church, we have lost three deeply committed members?”

I am sure there are a number of valid explanations when it comes to the Catholic Church and the Hispanic community, but I think we need to dramatically improve in the following three areas:

1. Preparation of priests and lay leaders — We need to gear up for the future by preparing our clergy and our lay leaders . . . or else Hispanics will continue to go away.

2. Investing in youth — We need to be more creative, because Catholic schools alone cannot do it and, in fact, less than five percent of Hispanics are sending their children to Catholic schools.

3. Opening wide the doors of our churches — There is no other way to say it. We need to be more welcoming and open our churches . . . or Hispanics will continue to go elsewhere.

There is no doubt that “comings and goings” are part of life in the Catholic Church, but maybe now is a good time to reframe the question and simply ask: “Why?”

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Fr. Pat Murphy

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