by Father Pat Murphy
Today I am writing to you from Portugal, where I am attending the general chapter of my religious community.
This is a monthlong meeting of 45 Scalabrinians working in 32 countries. We gather to write up our missionary plan and to elect the leadership team for the next six years.
One of the great experiences of this meeting is when we gather for prayer and Eucharist, which often occurs in six or seven languages. Despite the beauty of this experience, however, I must be honest and say that, after one month, I am ready to return home.
The experience of being away from home has reminded me why Hispanic ministry is so essential to our Spanish-speaking families. The presence of Hispanic ministry gives immigrants a moment to feel at home in terms of their faith experience. In fact, as the population of Hispanics increases in the United States (53 million in 2012, of which 45,000 live in Wyandotte County), Hispanic ministry is not only important for those who speak Spanish, but an absolute pastoral necessity for the future of the Catholic Church.
Hispanic ministry is crucial for the future of the Catholic Church in light of the following three reasons:
1. As the church exists to evangelize, we must be prepared to teach and celebrate sacraments in the language of those we serve. The number one priority of the church is always to preserve the faith of all people.
2. Indeed, the church does not exist to teach English. And so Mass in Spanish is not up for discussion, but rather a pastoral necessity because it is where the people feel at home in living out their faith in the Catholic Church rather than finding God in some other church. (If you have any doubts about this just drive through Kansas City, Kan., and see how many other denominations are saying “Bienvenidos” (“Welcome”) to the Hispanics.
3. To live in a new country requires a very long process of adaptation. But by the second generation, the children of immigrants begin to speak mostly English and to forget their Spanish. However, one of the last things people give up is the practice of the faith in their language. For Hispanics to pray in their native tongue and to celebrate their traditions is the best way to help them preserve the faith.
There is much more that could be said about this theme. But let me conclude with a few words from the recent synod on the new evangelization where the bishops said: “It is important that the church give to [immigrants] their support with a pastoral plan . . . respecting also their traditions” (No. 22).