National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  January 30, 2004

Pastoral challenges differ among groups of young Hispanics

The recent report by the research arm of Instituto Fe Y Vida, Institute of Faith and Life -- a national institute for evangelization, formation, and leadership among Hispanic youth and young adults -- describes the pastoral needs of the surging young Hispanic population in the Catholic church.

But as the report emphasizes, the heading “Hispanic youth is broad and includes a host of cultural and other differences.”

So the report breaks down the heading into four categories of youth and young adults, “based on the pastoral challenges and gifts they bring to the church,” cautioning that “most Hispanic young people will not fit neatly into any one category.”

The categories listed are:

  • Immigrant workers: “Most likely Mexican” and just as likely to be undocumented. According to the report, “The majority of immigrant workers arrive in the U.S. without a high school education.” While many are eager to learn English, “the majority speak mostly Spanish at home, as well as at work. … Separated from their family,” the report continues, “immigrant workers have tremendous needs.”
  • Identity seekers: Those who are “looking for a sense of identity and belonging in a world that is neither their parents’ nor their own.” Mostly citizens of the United States and children or grandchildren of immigrants and, the report says, they “have felt the sting of social and religious discrimination, poor education, and dehumanizing public policy, especially if their parents or grandparents were undocumented or had little formal education.”
  • Mainstream movers: “Educated -- and being educated” -- they understand how to take advantage of the socioeconomic system in the United States for their personal advancement. Because the “mainstream movers” have the advantage of education, the report adds, “they have greater possibilities for becoming priests, religious and other leaders in the church, but they are unlikely to participate in the church’s pastoral outreach” to more disadvantaged Hispanics.
  • Gang members: The final and smallest demographic group the report calls “gang members, gang associates and youth at risk.” The report distinguishes between gang members -- a self-describing term -- and “gang associates,” who are “likely younger siblings and neighbors of gang members.” Most “gang associates,” the report says, “know that they do not ever want to be in a gang.” Gang members, the report notes, are seldom immigrants. They are second- or third-generation Hispanic-Americans raised by “single parents, married couples, grandparents, even households headed by a brother or sister,” most likely in poverty. “Not fully proficient in either Spanish or English,” the report notes, “many of these young Hispanics are neither in school nor in work,” and “depend on fellow gang members to look out for their best interests.” With their lives “threatened almost daily by rival gang members and law enforcement officials,” the report adds, grimly, “chances are good that they will be incarcerated or killed before they reach the age 30.” Their pastoral needs -- clearly -- are huge. They include “recovery from addictions, psychosexual development, skills for communication and intimacy, basic parenting skills, education, job training, healing of traumatic wounds from childhood and gang life, religious and moral education, anger management, and forgiveness.” But the report is careful to note the gifts these young people bring to the church: “A basic, and at times very profound, sense of the mystery of God’s presence, as well as the ability to stand by another human being without conditions.”

The categories serve to inform and to warn. “Many young Hispanics,” the report says, “will not participate in the life of the Catholic church if they feel it is not addressing their needs. … Pastors need to become more aware of the various segments of the young Hispanic population in their parishes,” the report adds, “and they must develop pastoral plans to address the needs of all young Hispanics -- not just those who fit into mainstream American culture or recently arrived immigrants.”

-- Jeff Guntzel

National Catholic Reporter, January 30, 2004

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