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March 29, 2009

Vicariate V working to develop Hispanic leaders

By Clemente Nicado


If one parish can provide a first- hand account of the rapid increase in the Hispanic Catholic community on the Southwest Side and in the southwest suburbs, it is St. Michael in Orland Park.

When the parish celebrated its first Spanish Mass about a year ago, there were a few hundred Hispanic parishioners in attendance. Now it can host more than 1,000 Spanish speakers in a single day.

As the number of Hispanic Catholics has grown, so has the need to develop leaders for the community.

Leadership formation

Therese Navarro, pastoral associate and director of religious education at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish, sees the challenge. Her Southwest Side parish had 600 Hispanic parishioners six years ago; now that figure is closer to 900.

With the help of the pastor, Father John McDonnell, the parish has increased its ministries to the Hispanic community, including a Spanish-language Mass, bilingual priests and the start of a group with a deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“We have lectors and extraordinary ministers of Communion, but it is difficult to develop Hispanic leaders. We have insisted in this regard, but it is difficult to find a person in the community that can respond to these needs,” said Navarro.

Those needs will only increase as Hispanics form a larger proportion of Catholics in the archdiocese and in the United States.

According to the archdiocesan Office of Research and Planning, the number of Hispanics who attend Mass is increasing while the number of Catholics of European descent who attend Mass is decreasing.

“National and archdiocesan surveys regarding the Catholic presence at Mass show that in recent years general participation at Mass has decreased. But, thanks to the growing presence of Hispanic Catholics, these statistics point to a less dramatic decline in the overall Catholic population,” said Peter Ductram, Hispanic coordinator for Vicariate V.

Creating awareness

Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Garcia- Siller, the episcopal vicar for Vicariate V, sees the issues in the context of an entire vicariate: “We are in a process of transition and the greatest challenge we face is how to create awareness of these enormous changes we are experiencing within the vicariate,” Bishop Garcia-Siller said.

The leadership of Vicariate V is working to make formation programs more accessible, going “parish to parish” in direct communication with pastors. Such programs have been offered for three years at Centro Espíritu Santo, located at St. Clare de Montefalco Parish.

“Each vicariate has its specific needs and manner of meeting those needs according to the context in which these needs evolves. We believe that in Vicariate V this center is a viable way to form the Hispanic leaders we need,” the bishop said.

Hispanic ministry in Vicariate V is relatively new compared to other ethnic ministries, as Hispanic communities began forming only 10 to 12 years ago.

Data from the 2000 census showed almost 392,000 Hispanics in this area, and roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic population identifies itself as Catholic.

Holy Cross-Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Simon the Apostle and St. Gall parishes were among the pioneers in offering Hispanic ministry.

Of the 79 parishes in Vicariate V, 24 offer Spanish-language Mass and 19 offer additional Hispanic ministry. However, there is only a single Hispanic pastor, Father Hugo León Londoño, at St. Joseph Parish in the Back-of-the Yards neighborhood.

“The reality is that parishes have been doing an excellent job on their own, but the systematic organization and inter-parish work that responds to this phenomenon at the vicariate level, is relatively new,” Ductram said. “In some cases Spanish language Mass was celebrated for 17 years, without a supporting Hispanic ministry put into place. Five years ago and with the presence of Bishop Gustavo and the office of this ministry, the work has been more systematic, interconnected and intentional.”

“Leadership formation is both a blessing and a challenge. On one hand, we have some people that we train, but lack previous formation, while on the other hand we train native Chicagoans who possess the requisite formation but have a limited understanding of Hispanic ministry and its dynamism.”

At the rate that the Hispanic Catholic community is growing in the region, there’s a growing amount of interest by Catholics of all kinds, particularly white, non- Hispanics, to understand and serve this community.

“Our mission in this sense is to promote the understanding that our diversity is our blessing as one Catholic Church. We come from the same essence, Christ, but the diversity resides in the manner, form and language with which we relate with the divine,” Ductram said.

Multi-ethnic encuentro

Bishop Garcia-Siller has started to offer a series of gatherings with parishioners of different cultures in order to “hear the voices and see what kind of melody we will all sing together,” he said.

These gatherings, called, “Gathered as One in our God,” have been made possible thanks to the generosity and hard work of Incarnation and Our Lady of the Snows parishes.

The Multi-Ethnic Encuentros will conclude with a Mass and celebration on June 13 at St. Rita High School, with parishioners of all cultures and languages.

“Another challenge is to identify leaders and be able to motivate them to commit to formation under a vision of unity in diversity, conscious that the church is diverse and is one, to be architects of bridges of a genuine dialogue,” said Ductram.