Thursday, September 18, 2008

Church Demands Latino Leadership Says Archbishop Chaput

Recently, a group of Catholic Latino leaders from around the country met in Denver forming a new organization named CALL – the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput opened their conference with some encouraging and challenging remarks to the Catholic Latino community.

Reflecting on the massive contributions of the immigrant Irish to the Church in America, Chaput said Latinos are poised to make a similarly huge impact, but not without effective, organized leadership.

The full text of his remarks below was provided to The Catholic Key by the Archdiocese of Denver and is reprinted with permission.


Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM.Cap

St. Malo Retreat Center

I’m happy to be here tonight, not only because I enjoy greeting you every year, but also because this is the first time I can welcome you as a formal organization: -- the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, or CALL.

CALL is already on the map of Catholic and Latino organizations. I’ve been a witness to the great interest it has already earned. This could not have happened without the efforts of CALL’s board, headed by Mr. Mario Paredes, and the leadership of my good friend Archbishop José Gomez. Congratulations to all of for this achievement.

I’d like to express my particular pleasure in the name you’ve chosen for the organization: CALL.

In Latin, the word for “call” is vocare. It’s the root word that “vocation” comes from. “The call” is a key idea in Catholic tradition. It’s what being a Christian means: the acceptance of a call from God, of a unique vocation prepared for each of us by our Creator. Being a Christian is nothing more or less than responding to the call of Jesus Christ and then transmitting the fruits of his death and resurrection to the rest of the world.

In choosing your name, you’ve understood quite accurately the nature of your vocation as Catholics, Latinos and leaders of your communities. You’ve seen the need to respond to Christ’s invitation to discipleship, and that’s vital as a first step. You’ll discuss over the next two days the kinds of things you’ll want to accomplish as an organization. But let me share just a few thoughts with you, in the hope that I can help you better understand what God, through his Church, may want from you.

My pastoral experience with Latinos is very gratifying but also at times frustrating. It’s gratifying because Latinos instinctively bring with them a Catholic vision of the world. Their faith is deeply embedded in a wider cultural outlook. Even if they don’t practice their faith, they usually see reality – life and death, family and friends, work and leisure -- in a way that’s deeply Catholic in its roots, and therefore, profoundly human.

There’s truth to the old joke that 90 percent of Mexicans are Catholic, but 99.9 percent are Guadalupanos. The faith of Latinos is vividly expressed in their culture, and that’s something American Catholics urgently need in the midst of a materialist and fundamentally Protestant culture.

I also find in Latinos a great responsiveness to every pastoral effort made on their behalf. It’s very moving to see the joy they feel when a bishop greets them, or when a new Mass in Spanish is announced, or when new pastoral resources become available. That kind of joy in a parish is one of the greatest gifts a pastor can experience. I’m not glorifying the Latino community. We all know Latino weaknesses and shortcomings when it comes, for example, to bringing their faith into the public square or supporting the Church in her material needs. But as I told you last year, “demography is destiny.” And I very strongly believe that what Latinos bring to our Church and to our nation is a huge blessing.

I also said that ministering to the Latino community can be frustrating. One reason is the current mood of our country. The amount of negative reaction I receive for arguing that justice requires genuine and systematic immigration reform has been sobering. Another reason for my frustration is financial. The needs of our Latino community are huge, and while the Church in Colorado is not poor, we never have enough resources to match our people’s needs.

I think we have several achievements we can be proud of in the Archdiocese of Denver, from a 10-fold increase in Masses in Spanish, to the promotion of Hispanic vocations; to the creation of the Centro San Juan Diego and a division of Catholic Charities especially dedicated to helping Latinos with their legal status in this country.

But despite all these efforts, we still don’t adequately minister to Latinos. We’re losing them, not so much to Protestant churches, though that’s a problem as well, but mostly to a secularized, consumer-driven society. They’re being digested by our culture, when they should be renewing it.

As I said, demography is destiny. But leadership is destiny too. Let me explain.

Ethnically, the Catholic Church in the United States has been fueled by several major waves of immigrants: the Irish, Italians, Germans, French, Polish and Hispanics. The very heavy Irish influence in shaping the American Church over the past 150 years has obviously been based in the demographic realities. The Irish were the largest single Catholic ethnic group in the country. But the really interesting thing is this: Their actual influence was even greater than their numbers.

Why? It’s because unlike all the other ethnic groups that came to America, the Irish developed a highly organized and effective leadership. In fact, Archbishop Paul Cullen, installed as Archbishop of Dublin in 1852 and the first Irishman to become a Cardinal, made sure that a steady stream of talented Catholic priests and religious went to America to “keep the flock straight,” as he would say.

He not only created a seminary dedicated to forming vocations that would go abroad to reinforce the Catholic identity of the Irish in the United States, Canada and Australia; but also – despite the poverty of Ireland – he created a complex support system to finance his seminary and the missions to these other countries.

As a result, the Italians, Polish, French, Germans and other Catholic ethnic groups made many very important contributions to American life, but their real influence was probably more limited. The Irish, with their own priests and religious, created an extraordinary cultural system that impacted not only the organization of the Catholic Church in the United States, but also the whole political and social environment. In essence, the Irish turned a persecuted minority into a cultural, economic and religious force in the United States.

What’s the lesson? Today, Latinos are by far the largest Catholic ethnic group in the country.

But numbers aren’t decisive. Organization and leadership are decisive. In other words, you are decisive. Not us, bishops. The work of bishops is certainly crucial, but what the Church really needs is a generation of Latino leaders willing to do the work to have an impact on American Catholic life and American society. We need leaders willing to vigorously promote priestly vocations and pastoral ministers. We need leaders eager to show by their example that success in the financial, political or social environment can be achieved by reaffirming, not relinquishing, their Catholic values. We need leaders willing to strengthen the Latino family as the domestic Church, which is the cornerstone of a renewal of American culture.

You’ve chosen the name CALL, Catholic Association of Latino Leaders. This is my simple request to you: Lead. But don’t forget who you are. Lead as Catholics and Latinos. Make sure that your service is deeply and authentically Catholic. And if you lead, if you accept God’s call, then the future will be full of hope -- not only for the Latino community, but for everyone who shares this great and beautiful nation. God bless you.