by Ellie Melero
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It has been a long road.
But four years’ work on the fifth national encuentro (or meeting) of Hispanic/Latino ministry in the church in the United States is beginning to pay off, according to Mayra Valadez.
Valadez, a member of St. Paul Church in Olathe, participated in V Encuentro as a youth representative from her parish. V Encuentro (preceded by four other national encuentros dating back to 1972) was a four-year-long effort of the church in the United States, convened by the American bishops, to find out more about the Catholic Hispanic population in the country.
As a youth representative, part of Valadez’s job was to go out and talk to families who weren’t very active in her church and find out why they weren’t more involved.
“Sitting down with the families was a very eye-opening experience,” said Valadez. “Just sitting down and listening to what they had to tell us about different things that they struggle with their faith and how we as a parish can help them out [was instructive].”
One thing that she heard over and over again was that people had trouble making it to the Spanish Mass. Saint Paul’s responded by instituting an additional Spanish Mass at 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The new Mass, said Valdez, has “its ups and downs.
“You don’t always see a lot of people, but the people that you see are new parishioners,” she said. “I think that that’s pretty amazing.”
This was the intent of the national encuentro process: to find out more about the Catholic Hispanic population in each diocese, to identify the unique struggles they face and then find ways to help them become more involved in their parishes.
In the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, about 30% of Catholics are Hispanic. The majority of that population traces its roots to Mexico. This information comes from statistics published by the V Encuentro following the national conference in April.
The V Encuentro published statistics for each diocese in the United States based on information collected from diocesan offices and national statistics it compiled. The statistics reflect numbers from 2016.
According to the statistics, the future of the Catholic Church is Hispanic.
From 2000 to 2016, the Hispanic population in the Kansas City area, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, increased by 91%, and 59% of Hispanics in 2016 were Catholic. Comparatively, the white, non-Hispanic population only increased by 6% during that time and only 16% identified as Catholic in 2016.
Also, while only 30% of the total Catholic population in the archdiocese in 2016 was Hispanic (still a sizable amount), those numbers grow the younger the population gets.
In the archdiocese in 2016, about 45% of Catholics under 13 were Hispanic, about 40% of Catholics 14 to 29 were Hispanic and about 35% of Catholics 30 to 49 were Hispanic.
To minister to the needs of Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese, there are 12 parishes with an organized Hispanic ministry and 20 weekly Masses in Spanish.
Father Gianantonio “Giani” Baggio, CS, the director of the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry, said now that the archdiocese knows the numbers, he hopes that Hispanic ministry will grow. If not, he fears, the church will lose the Hispanic young people who comprise so much of it.
“The statistics can only help you to see what is the situation and how many people you have in that kind of situation,” said Father Giani. “The rest is: ‘What are you going to do about it?’
“If we don’t understand that change, we are losing the opportunity to save billions of Catholics.”
Father Giani said it is up to the archdiocese to decide how it will proceed with the information the V Encuentro provided.
“The convocation that we’re going to have in October is going to be a very important moment to see what part . . . Hispanic ministry [has in] the pastoral project of the diocese,” Father Giani said. “The Fifth Encuentro is really helping us to look at the future and see what needs to be done to attend to our Catholic followers that are present in our archdiocese.”
Valadez said she, too, looks forward to seeing what the archdiocese as a whole comes up with to try to get the Hispanic youth more involved.
From Valadez’s perspective, the V Encuentro has had a positive impact on her parish. She hopes it can continue to have a positive impact on other parishes and dioceses as well.
“At St. Paul, I think I’ve seen the fruit of what we did with the V Encuentro with the new Spanish Mass and also the creation of the new welcome committee for the Hispanic ministry,” Valadez said.
“We’re a very big Hispanic community,” she added, “and it’s just really nice to sometimes see those people starting to get involved in church.”To see the V Encuentro statistics, go to the website at: vencuentro.org/results.