Workshops to shed light on growing need for Hispanic ministry

Having three Hispanic seminarians in her parish administration course this year helped Barbara Sutton, director of field education and ministerial formation at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, to recognize the growing need for pastoral leaders in Hispanic ministry.

Sutton contacted Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, and invited him to speak in Collegeville March 11. Ospino also will present a workshop in Spanish March 12 at St. Mary Church in Melrose.

Dr. Hosffman Ospino
Dr. Hosffman Ospino

The Visitor interviewed him recently about his upcoming presentations. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. You will be speaking to two different audiences during your visit — to people at St. John’s University and to lay ministers at St. Mary Parish in Melrose. What message will you share with each audience?

Ospino: Though the audiences are different, the message is very similar: This is a time to understand with clarity what it means to be a church that is increasingly Hispanic, what the contributions are that Hispanics are making to the life of the church, how Hispanic Catholics challenge the larger U.S. experience, what the commitments are that Hispanics need to make as key members of the church in this country, and what some of the core areas of ministry are that we need to invest in today.

I will be making major emphasis on the reality of Hispanic youth. About 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic. They are the present and future of Catholicism in this country.

Q. What national trends are you noticing in Hispanic ministry? What does that mean for a rural diocese like St. Cloud?

Ospino: This is a very big question and I could write a book about it. I will mention four that I will unpack in my presentations.

  • Hispanic Catholics constitute more than 40 percent of all Catholics in the United States, and their numbers will continue to grow fast.
  • Most of the growth of Catholicism in the 21st century is taking place in the South and the West. Catholicism will remain strong in the Northeast and the Midwest, but much of that strength will depend on how particularly Hispanics are welcomed.
  • Most efforts in Catholic Hispanic ministry focus on the immigrant population. However, two-thirds of Hispanics are U.S.-born. There is an urgent need to find ways to engage Hispanics who were born in the country, who most likely prefer English for their day-to-day lives, while retaining Spanish for family life and religious matters, and who are quickly embracing the main influences of our shared U.S. culture, many of them with a spirit of secularization.
  • Despite the fact that Hispanic Catholics are bound to be the largest ethnic group in the church — and they already are in most of the South and the West — leadership positions in ministry at all levels are mostly held by Euro-American white Catholics. Eventually demographics in the communities need to match demographics at the leadership level. Thus, we need to work together to empower one another as we form the next generation of Catholic leaders. More Hispanics need to be identified, invited, formed and given responsibility to assume positions of leadership in our offices and organizations.

For a diocese like St. Cloud, this means that pastoral leaders need to read the reality. The more they know who Hispanic Catholics are, where they are and what they bring to their communities, the better ministry with this community can be planned.

Q. How can pastoral leaders prepare for the growing Hispanic population? What are some concrete things they could start doing today? What are some things they may need to do that will take more time and effort?

Ospino: At this very moment, the [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] has called for everyone in ministry in the United States to develop the necessary intercultural competencies to serve our Catholic faith communities. This means that we need to be attentive to culture, learn how to embrace difference, welcome those who we treat as “strangers” and treat them as part of our Catholic families in parishes and groups, and also be mindful of biases such as racism and classism that may prevent us from recognizing the dignity of every human person.

What are some concrete things they could start doing today? Learn Spanish if you are working with immigrants. Learn about the history of the Hispanics in your community. Sincerely reach out to Hispanics as sisters and brothers. Welcome Hispanic families in Catholic schools. Invite Hispanic leaders into decision-making positions in the life of the church. Develop strong catechetical programs for Hispanics, both in English and Spanish. Invest in youth groups now.

What are some things they may need to do that will take more time and effort? Educate entire parish communities to learn how to welcome Hispanic Catholics and live comfortably in the midst of diversity. Foster vocations to the ordained priesthood, religious life and lay ecclesial ministry among Hispanics. Invest generously in Hispanics discerning those vocations. Hire Hispanic pastoral leaders to work in parishes as directors of religious education and pastoral associates, in dioceses to work in offices where they can support the outreach that parishes and groups do.

Q. What is the role of the non-Hispanic population in the efforts to minister to, and with, our Hispanic brothers and sisters? What can people in the pew do? Sometimes the cultural gaps seem large.

Ospino: The first step is to recognize that we all are church, and that being church is an exciting experience because of its diversity. As long as we can start seeing each other for our intrinsic value as human beings created in God’s image and likeness, there should not be any problem constituting multicultural communities — therefore welcoming Hispanics.

Non-Hispanic Catholics should retrieve their own histories. Not long ago most Irish, German, Italian and many other Catholics were immigrants. Also, we all need to think about the future. If a mostly Euro-American parish refuses to welcome Hispanic or Asian or Black immigrant Catholics from Africa, eventually this community will isolate and potentially die. That is the most non-Catholic thing that can happen to them. But the same applies to a Hispanic community or a Black community that refuses to openits doors to Catholics from other cultures and races or ethnicities. Again, we must come to terms with the fact that we are a culturally diverse church.

Q. What contributions can the Hispanic communities bring to the parish community as a whole?

Ospino: Many. I will highlight three.

  • Hispanics bring a vibrant faith, shaped by centuries of presence of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the Caribbean, and in regions of the U.S. where Hispanics have been present for a long while. It is a faith rich in traditions and expressions. Hispanics value profoundly the importance of popular religiosity.
  • Hispanics are very young. The median age of Hispanics is 29. In some parts of the country it is much younger. Hispanics tend to have large families. So much youth is an opportunity to build fresher and more vibrant communities.
  • Many Hispanics struggle with major social issues such as poverty, low levels of education, and young people losing hope because of lack of opportunities or support. These Hispanics are our sisters and brothers, they are members of our communities, they are the church along with many others. Helping our Hispanic sisters and brothers to face those realities is an opportunity for our church to reclaim its prophetic voice and do everything in its power to make a difference in their lives.

Q. It seems that some diocesan and parish efforts with Hispanic Catholics take a “separate but equal” approach — i.e. there is outreach to help them celebrate feast days and get them involved in the church with other Hispanic Catholics. At other times, it seems dioceses and parishes want Hispanic and Anglo Catholics to participate together as one faith community. In your opinion, what’s the best approach for the health of the church?

Ospino: The biggest challenge that we have in many dioceses and parishes is that we continue to treat each other using the “us-and-them” paradigm. In the Catholic Church there should not be “us and them” — it is always us. We are one community with many experiences and many ways of being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

As U.S.-born Hispanics become more comfortable with English, they will make a natural transition. As long as there are Catholics who need services in Spanish (currently 20 million immigrants from Latin America live in the United States, most of them Catholic), it is the responsibility of the church to provide for them in this language. Let’s continue to have Masses, catechesis, prayer groups, formation programs in Spanish as long as this is needed. But let’s also find moments to come together through prayer, mutual service and social events.

Event information
Hosffman Ospino will speak twice in the Diocese of St. Cloud:

  • March 11 (English) 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Founder’s Room (Quad 174), St. John’s University, Collegeville. Fee: $30.
  • March 12 (Spanish) 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., St. Mary Church, Melrose. Fee: $10.

The lecture is made possible by the Victor J. Klimoski Endowment. For more information, visit or contact Bailey Walter at or 320-323-2013.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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