Latinos Make Up Record Share of New American Priests | National Catholic Registry

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Of the men ordained to the priesthood this year in the United States, 22% are Latinos — the highest recorded percentage in any given year.

That’s according to a survey of this year’s ordination class conducted by the Georgetown Center for Applied Research in the Apostleship, or CARA. The organization has conducted this study every year for 20 years. Last year, 16% of new priests in the United States were Latinos, and 10 years ago that figure was 15% of the total.

The jump to 22% is not indicative of a statistically significant and sustained increase, reports CARA, but it represents a positive and symbolic step, given the large population of Hispanics in the United States – and the historical lack of representation Latinos in the American presbyterium. .

According to Professor Hosffman Ospino of Boston College, a professor of religious education and an expert on Hispanic Catholics in America, only 8.5% of all priests serving in the United States are Latinos. Other recent reports have put this figure at 3%. Yet the group represents up to 45% of the country’s current Catholic population.

Ospino said that figure jumps to 60% when considering Catholics in the United States under the age of 18, making the corresponding rise in the percentage of Latinos among this year’s ordination class welcome news. .

“There’s a growing group of Hispanic seminarians, and that’s producing more priests,” Ospino told the Register. “It’s a trend in the right direction.”

Natives of the country and born abroad

According to the CARA survey, Latinos among this year’s priestly ordination class come from diverse backgrounds.

“That 22% number is a mix of local and foreign-born vocations,” said Jesuit Father Thomas Gaunt, executive director of CARA. “The group of foreign origin [includes] from men who immigrated with their families as children to those who came to the United States as adults to attend seminary.

This diversity is well exemplified by the six Latinos who, along with two other men, were ordained priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on June 4. Four of the new Latin priests were born and raised in the United States, while the other two were born in Mexico.

The number of foreign-born Latinos among the ordination class is also part of another trend revealed in the CARA study: 26% of all men ordained to the priesthood in the United States this year were native-born. abroad, with countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. among the most common places of birth, but also countries like Vietnam and India.

According to Ospino, the profile of Latinos entering seminary in the United States is different from that of new immigrants.

“Immigrants tend to be older, while Latinos entering seminary are in their 20s and 30s,” Ospino said. He added that while most newly immigrated Latinos generally do not have legal status in the United States, Latinos who enter seminary are not only legal U.S. citizens or immigrants with visas, but they also have a more solid training.

In some dioceses where the bishop or vocation director has close ties with a counterpart in Latin America, it is also common to identify Latino seminarians from abroad and invite them to serve in the United States. Their seminary training is then sponsored by the inviting diocese, and these men serve as diocesan priests after ordination.

The increase in Latin priestly vocations in the United States may also be linked to the continued growth of American-born Latinos, who are sometimes generations away from immigration.

“Although many people think of Latinos as immigrants, only 26% of Latinos in the United States were born abroad. [Only] 20% of Latinos are not fluent in English,” Ospino said, adding that 94% of Hispanics under 18 in the United States are born and speak English citizens.

Encourage Latin vocations

Ospino said Catholic bishops across the United States are keen to foster more Latin American vocations to the priesthood.

“One way to do that is to have Latino priests working in vocations offices,” he said. “Another way is to increase the number of Hispanic children who attend Catholic schools. It helps people grow Catholic and discern a path to the priesthood.

A CARA study from several years ago examined the means by which pastoral evangelism was carried out for specific groups, including Hispanics.

“Out of 17,000 parishes, 6,000 parishes had a pastoral mission to Spanish-speaking populations,” Fr. Gaunt said. Despite the fact that the majority of young Latinos in the United States speak English, Masses in Spanish can also play an important role in promoting Latin American vocations to the priesthood, given the family and cultural importance these liturgies have. even for non-immigrant Latinos.

Ospino also believes that all archbishops and cardinals should be fluent in Spanish in light of the fact that most major cities in the United States have large Hispanic populations.

For the record, immigrant families tend to have a very strong family and cultural religiosity.

“The practical elements of faith are strengthened in the family,” Fr. Gaunt said. “It is a contribution to the American Church.”

Conversely, non-immigrant Catholics tend not to have a strong Catholic culture at home.

“A grandmother living at home and blessing the children in the morning tends to happen in the immigrant house,” Father Gaunt said.

During the height of the COVID shutdowns, when people couldn’t attend Mass, Catholic devotions allowed faith to grow in immigrant families, he added.

Cultural and legal challenges

Half of the 1.3 million Catholics in the Diocese of Orange, California, are Latinos. While it is important to train priests who can serve this population – approximately 70% of diocesan parishes offer Mass in Spanish – the proportion of newly ordained Latino priests is still considerably lower than the overall representation of Latinos in the diocese.

“We’ve had 41 ordained men in the last 10 years; 13 to 15 of them can speak or read in Spanish,” said Father Brandon Dang. “Five of these men are of Latino descent, and they were either born here or born overseas.”

Father Dang thinks the reason why vocations are not higher among Latinos has to do with family culture.

“We see that in all families, Anglos and Latinos alike. Families will say focus on career or focus on having a family. Poverty can be another factor, whereby families need their sons to help them financially,” Father Dang said.

Although a strong family culture means that Latin American families may strongly practice the Catholic faith, this may not translate to vocations due to the emphasis on marriage and having children.

Bishop Luis Zarama of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina is the first Colombian-born bishop in the United States. He came to the United States in 1991 and was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Although half of the diocese’s 500,000 Catholics are Latino, only a quarter of Raleigh’s current seminarians are of Latino descent.

Legal status is an important factor that further hinders Latin American vocations in the diocese.

“When it comes to promoting vocations among Latinos, one of the first questions to ask is, ‘Are you legal?’ If someone is illegal, he cannot go to the seminary,” Bishop Zamara said. “Most of Raleigh’s 250,000 Latino Catholics are illegal.”

The process to become legal is very long and complicated. If someone is over 18, they must return to their home country and apply for legal residency in the United States from there.

“But if they leave the country, we cannot guarantee that they will be able to come back,” the bishop said.

Bishop Zamara also suggested that there may be cultural challenges in promoting vocations among young Latino men.

“Sometimes they think seminary/priesthood is an easy path, but then they see it’s a difficult path, and they give up,” Bishop Zamara said.

In some cases, Latinos from other countries contact dioceses in the United States to inquire about seminary entrance. Other times they have already been living in the United States for a few years. Most dioceses strive to attract local vocations because they do not want to “poach” vocations from other countries.

“It’s really case by case. Some men call us out of the blue from a Latin American country,” Father Dang said. “Sometimes they know a priest from the diocese, and there is a connection. Other times it’s random. Some seminary men are sponsored by a Latin American diocese. We had a gentleman from Mexico who went to seminary there, left, and then felt the need to come back to seminary in the United States. He had family ties in the diocese of Orange.

The Diocese of Orange has a policy that anyone who enters the seminary of the diocese must have a family or friend connection.

In addition to other factors, COVID has harmed the vocations of all ethnic groups.

“We couldn’t interact with the candidates. It can only be done by Zoom, which is not the best way. In some ways, COVID has slowed down the process. Now we have to catch up,” Bishop Zamara said.

The real challenge is to increase the number of vocations at all levels, not just for Latinos, but to serve the whole Church.

As Bishop Zamara said, “We need open men to serve everyone in the Church – Anglos, Hispanics – and in any language.”

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