Cultures Clash in Immigrant Parishes
Mass at San Martin de Porres Parish, south of
Built on land donated by the Walden family, owners of the surrounding Green Valley Pecan Co. orchard, to provide a place of worship for their mostly Hispanic workers, the once-remote parish is now bordered by several hundred acres of suburban housing in the high-dollar and rapidly growing Rancho Sahuarita, Rancho Reserve and Quail Creek developments — inhabited mostly by Anglo-Americans.
For six years, guaranteeing that diverse people unite as one parish has been the mission of the pastor, Society of the Divine Savior Father Michael Shay. A former provincial for the Society of the Divine Savior, Father Shay said keeping everyone engaged and involved, with nobody feeling left out, is an ongoing task. From the religious education and liturgy committees to the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter, parishioners “work to include everyone because they see this church as family.”
He cites “Strangers No Longer,” a
2003 pastoral letter on migration, published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops. Written by the bishops of
While the Diocese of Tucson points
to San Martin de Porres Parish as an example of
cultural integration, the parish’s transition from primarily Hispanic to mixed
ethnicity is the opposite of what is being experienced by other
More typical have been parishes transformed from an almost entirely non-Hispanic congregation to a mixed or even majority Hispanic congregation. However, for all of them, “the ideal is to have the best of Hispanic and the best of Anglo culture brought together by a common faith,” said Rubén Dávalos, director of Evangelization and Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Tucson. As for how to accomplish that, he said, “You do the best you can.”
He dismisses the concept of a written strategy for accomplishing integration, noting that each situation and each parish has its own challenges. Instead of rules, he said, “It requires a lot of understanding, patience and prayer.”
What keeps the Church united around the world is “our religion and common veneration of the Virgin,” Dávalos said. “Through those, we can transcend any barrier that stands in the way of community.”
According to a report by Seattle-based researcher Joseph Claude Harris, commissioned by the California Catholic Conference, the impact of this growth is felt most by the state’s Catholic parishes.
Even though in California the rate of first Communions is 68% of those baptized, and confirmations are 37%, well below the national average of 85% and 63%, Harris said the number of Catholics in California has risen from 7.3 million in 1990 to 11.1 million today, and is expected to be 16.6 million, or slightly more than half the state’s population, by 2025.
At the same time, the percentage
of Hispanic Catholics has risen from 24.5% to 30%, and is forecast to reach 36%
in the next 20 years, he said. “This has implications for the Catholic Church,
where one in five U.S. Catholics will live in
As president of the California Catholic Conference, Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton is witnessing the transformation, both locally and on a statewide basis.
“It’s certainly the greatest challenge we face as a Church,” he said. “There are so many different levels because there’s no Hispanic stereotype you can use.”
As with the non-Hispanic population, Bishop Blaire said, “There’s a multiplicity of cultures and backgrounds. There are Hispanics who have been here for generations and speak only English. There are some who are bilingual and other who speak only Spanish. Some are financially successful and some are not.”
While he agrees that there’s no
single strategy for integrating the Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations, some
methods have helped ease the transition. Based on the successful experiences of
several dioceses, including
Beyond that, he said, the increased awareness of the issues involved in the Hispanic migration and enculturation has helped encourage more action. “Life in a parish is never divorced from the reality of the wider world.” Increased attention is raising the consciousness about the need to build a sense of unity through faith, Bishop Blaire said, “even if the politicization of it has added another level of complexity that’s not always helpful to that process.”
Ultimately, integration of immigrants, including the Hispanic immigration, will depend on teaching people to overcome their fears, said David Stout, public outreach and education coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It’s always an educational process of overcoming myths and educating people about different cultures, to see the positive value that immigrants can bring,” he said. “From there, they’ll be able to see beyond their fears to welcome strangers into their parishes.”
Philip S. Moore
writes from Vail,
- August 6-12, 2006