LOS ANGELES — Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia praised the work of Catholic Hispanic leaders, but reminded them that they needed to provide personal witness to counter the strong effect of U.S. secular culture on the Hispanic population.

“Hispanic culture still has a soul formed by an encounter with Jesus Christ and the humanity and compassion that flow from it,” Archbishop Chaput said Aug. 23 at the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders’ national conference.

“These things are worth fighting for and sharing with others,” he said. “Faith matters because it gives meaning to the word ‘human’ in ‘human beings.’ It matters because it makes us children of a loving God.”

The Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) was holding its eighth annual conference in Los Angeles Aug. 23-25.

The association is comprised of business, professional and community leaders in the Hispanic community and is dedicated to the spiritual formation of other Latino leaders, community service and cultural and educational projects.

Archbishop Chaput said he and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles helped launch CALL “to create a professional organization that would support Hispanic Catholic leaders.”

“We wanted to help those leaders renew the heart of an America that has become more and more confused and more and more remote from its founding ideals. All of you here today are a testimony to what we hoped to accomplish. I’m very, very grateful to be a part of your work,” he said.

Disturbing Signs for Hispanic Catholics

However, Archbishop Chaput warned that the strength of Catholic culture among Latinos is weakening.

He said U.S. Latinos leave the Catholic Church “at a sobering rate.” Almost 70% of foreign-born Hispanics are Catholic, but only 40% of third-generation Hispanics are.

The Latina abortion rate, he said, is higher than the national average, while Hispanic support for same-sex “marriage” rose from 31% in 2006 to 52% in 2012.

Archbishop Chaput said the statistics were a sobering reminder that the growing presence of Hispanics in the United States is not enough to pull the United States back in a moral direction. Instead, he feared the opposite was happening.

“I think Archbishop José and I probably underestimated the ability of American culture to digest and redirect any new influence that comes from outside our borders,” he said.

“In some ways, the Hispanic social and political profile is barely distinguishable from American national trends. The idea that Latinos, simply by their presence, might restore the moral tenor of our public discourse is a delusion,” the archbishop said.

He added that American consumer culture and its “eager little idolatries,” such as practical atheism, “manufactured appetites” — distractions, noise and toys — is “simply too strong.”

“As a nation, Americans pay lip service to God on our coinage while forcing him out of our public life everywhere else. And in God’s place we’ve created an avalanche of empty choices and phony little godlings that promise to feed our inner hungers and do nothing but starve us instead,” he said.

A CALL to Witness Deeper Faith

Archbishop Chaput stated this current situation faced by the Hispanic community should not be a cause for despair, however.

“An immense reservoir of goodness and hope still resides in the world. We need to remember that and act on it,” he said.

The archbishop pointed to the friendliness of strangers in Latin America who showed “spontaneous, unexpected warmth” to his friends’ son with Down syndrome.

He noted how those with Down syndrome face many health problems, including early dementia. Many will one day fail to recognize the family members who loved them and sacrificed for them. But while some people focus on the heartache and “bleak” futures of those with Down syndrome, Archbishop Chaput said that the Catholic focus is different.

“No love is fruitless. No love is wasted,” he said. “Every life is precious. We trust in a loving God who is love itself; a God who pours out an unearned, redeeming kind of love on every one of his creatures; a God who became Love incarnate to make all things new.”

Archbishop Chaput said faith is important because “we can’t trust a God we don’t believe in.”

“Faith matters because hope and love can’t bear the weight of the suffering in the world without it,” he said.

“Faith matters because it reminds us that there’s good in the world and meaning to every life; and that the things that make us human are worth fighting for. Faith matters because it drives us to do what’s right.”

Faith can even grow and spread in apparently fruitless times, he added.

Archbishop Chaput also cited the Letter to the Hebrews’ description of Abraham who, although he was “as good as dead,” had “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and countless as sands on the seashore.”

“That’s the power of faith. That’s the fertility of personal witness,” he said. “If CALL helps accomplish that kind of conversion in each of your lives, if CALL helps you strengthen each other in your Catholic faith and in your vocation as Christian leaders, then God will use it, and use you, to bring new life to our nation.”