by Father Pat Murphy
I was recently reading a talk given by Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, entitled: “Evangelization, Education and the Hispanic Catholic Future.” I found it to be insightful as well as challenging.
The heart of his message can be summed up in one observation offered by the archbishop:
“A generation ago we could hardly imagine a Hispanic saying he or she had “no religion,” yet that number has doubled in just the past few years.”
In arriving at this observation, Archbishop Gomez was reflecting on two recent studies about the religious identification of Hispanics. The shocking results of these studies make the following claims:
• About 58 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholics
• About 25 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as some sort of Protestant
• Between 10-12 percent identify themselves as having no religion.
I think these numbers are shocking, because it was only 20-30 years ago that it was often said that about 95 percent of Hispanics are Catholic.
Archbishop Gomez goes on to challenge us all when he raises the key question: “As Hispanics become more and more successful and more and more assimilated into the American mainstream, will they keep the faith? Will they keep the Catholic faith or drift away to other religions?”
I would like to add one more thought for our careful consideration of this theme. It is often said by those who crunch the numbers that in the next 30-40 years Hispanics will become the majority in the United States.
But I ask: Will the majority still be Catholic? The United States has never been over 50 percent Catholic. But with the arrival of the Hispanic community, this could become a reality.
However, it really depends on how good we are in terms of the evangelization of Hispanics over the next 30-40 years. The numbers seem to indicate we are losing the battle and, sad to say, I think it is true.
I agree with Archbishop Gomez and I think that time is of the essence if we want to make sure that the Hispanic community remains Catholic. We need to make a dramatic shift in the way in which we do things. The archbishop suggests there are some challenges to be faced:
• the challenge of secular culture
• the challenge of poverty — material and spiritual
• the challenge of providing encounters with Jesus
• the challenge of teaching and preaching the Gospel
• the challenge of being content with creating cultural Catholics.
In my next article for The Leaven, I will continue with this theme and offer some practical suggestion as to how I think we need to confront these key challenges.