Why Dioceses Should Support Struggling Latino Churches

Nichole Flores writes:

While Latino Catholics have always been a vital presence in the American church, burgeoning populations of migrants and young people have helped bolster their numbers. And even as growing numbers of Latinos have shifted the geographic center of Catholicism from the Northeast to the Southwest, signs of Latino Catholicism are becoming ubiquitous in U.S. Catholicism, promising to transform every corner of the church’s life.

But promising demographic data can easily be interpreted in a way that overlooks the textured history of Latino Catholics in the United States. This history is not a romantic account of gradual awareness, acceptance and celebration by the larger U.S. Catholic Church. It has often been a painful past, one in which the very existence of Latino church communities has often come under threat. As “The Miracle at Tepyác” discloses, Latino Catholics and their institutions have often been treated as pastoral afterthoughts by the broader church, and have even been the subject of neglect and abandonment….

Declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood, contracting parish enrollments and shrinking budgets have caused dioceses across the United States to consolidate parishes, resulting in the closure of spiritual homes in many communities. Dioceses search for mechanisms to cut costs while still serving their diverse constituencies. There is a pattern, however, of the collateral damage from parish consolidation and closure falling upon communities with the least power in these processes, including Latino Catholics and other Catholic communities of color.

While Latinos help the number of Catholics flourish in the southern and western United States, the dynamics of Catholicism in this region—especially in relation to race, ethnicity, culture and class—are still largely ignored or misunderstood. This history puts a wrinkle in the narrative of the growth of Latino Catholicism in the United States and the progressive incorporation of Latinos into the life of the church. Confronting this history presents an opportunity to grapple with dynamics of erasure, resistance and survival that have characterized Latino Catholic life. Further, understanding this history offers a new perspective on the current state of Latinos in the church.