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Hispanic Ministry Office gathers pastors, lay leaders to talk

As the national debate on immigration reform flags and fizzles and seems to be going nowhere in particular, the Diocese of Belleville called together leaders of Hispanic ministry across the diocese Oct. 14 to participate in a discussion of the “present reality” in the diocese and suggest ways to move forward in ministry.

Thirty people participated in the meeting representing all areas of the diocese, including representatives from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Members of the Office of Hispanic Ministry said, according to their research, Hispanics number more than 21,000 in the diocese in 2010, up from 13,000 in 2000.

Quoting national statistics, ASC Sister Cecilia Hellmann, Office coordinator, said 50.5 million Hispanics were counted in the 2010 census, and it is estimated more than 11 million undocumented Hispanics are in this country.

While politicians dither about immigration reform, the diocese continues to minister to Hispanics and reach out to all. The Oct. 14 meeting gave Hispanic ministers a chance to look at what is happening in all areas of the diocese and to propose ways to be of more assistance in the future.

Realizing that parishes in the diocese have different numbers of Hispanic parishioners — with some having significant numbers — the challenges facing each parish were sometimes very similar.

The group looked at Six Stages of Intercultural Sensitivity described in “Best Practices for Shared Parishes — So That They May All Be One” by the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church by the USCCB.

These stages include: denial, defense, minimizing, acceptance, adaptation and integration. People attending the meeting were asked to describe their congregations according to these six criteria.

When leaders were asked to describe their particular parish, many said it was difficult to choose one of the six categories. Rather, they felt their parishioners were sometimes moving among and between several of the six categories.

People also recognized that some of their parishioners were new arrivals while others had been in the area for 10 or more years. That, too, added to the difficulty in choosing one category over another. “The process to integrate is ongoing,” they said.

The problem of ministry to Hispanics in the diocese mirrors the problems church leaders have in every parish: Waiting for Hispanics or anyone else to come to church without any outreach by parish leaders will bear little fruit. The word “invite” was repeated. If pastors and/or lay leaders visit people in their homes and extend an invitation, it may increase the number of those attending liturgies or any event designed to welcome people to the community more than waiting for them to show up on their own.

And sometimes one invitation is not enough. The words “persistence” and “patience” were repeated too. Continuing the conversation with and among leaders in the Hispanic communities was encouraged.

Participants agreed in the need to care for and catechize Hispanic youth. They also recognized the importance of Hispanics represented on parish councils and at parish meetings, including youth.

The Office of Hispanic Ministry heard many suggestions from those gathered at the meeting, including the need to meet again and to formulate a five-year pastoral plan that can be revisited to measure its success and changes that need to be made. That too, will take persistence and patience.

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