VATICAN CITY (CNS) — With Latinos making up an estimated 40% of all Catholics in the United States, the U.S. Catholic Church is increasingly recognizing the needs and vitality of its Latino faithful, said Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City.
“The bishops of the United States, thanks be to God, have changed their attitude with respect to the Hispanic Catholic population,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service Oct. 24. “They are rediscovering it as a potential and accommodating them in their parishes.”
In Rome for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Aguiar said that more recent attitudes of embrace toward Latinos in the U.S. church stand in contrast with a previous mentality that thought: “This is our church, if someone comes here, they should adapt to us.”
“I think it is important that someone be able to find Mass in Spanish, that they do not lose their culture; the faith is inside their culture,” he told CNS. One effort he shared for Latinos in the United States to retain their Catholic and Hispanic roots is by going on pilgrimages into Latin America. He said the Archdiocese of Mexico City is organizing a pilgrimage with the Archdiocese of Chicago to take Latino Catholics to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and to see family members they have in Mexico.
Cardinal noted the need to maintain Spanish-speaking church communities in the U.S.
Cardinal Aguiar highlighted the need to maintain Spanish-speaking church communities for Latinos who are U.S. citizens as well as for second- and third-generation immigrants, explaining that “the pastor must always adapt to the sheep and not the sheep to the pastor.”
The cardinal, who was president of the Latin American bishops’ council, commonly known as CELAM, from 2011-15, said that in Latin America “we still generally have a large reserve of faith,” but that a trend of secularization is beginning to take root. According to 2020 census data, approximately 78% of Mexicans considered themselves Catholic — a decline from 83% in 2010.
The biggest challenge to advancing the Catholic faith in Latin America, he said, is the “fracturing of the transmission of faith in families.”
“That was experienced in Europe and it starting to be experienced today in Mexico and Latin America,” he said. “It’s necessary to clearly reconsider the role of the family but also to look for new ways of how to evangelize,” such as creating more spaces for young people to engage with the faith, he said.
Still, the cardinal recalled that St. John Paul II said Latin America was “a continent of hope for the church” and that Pope Benedict XVI asked it to be a “continent of charity and love.”
“I think we are still growing in awareness” of those calls, Cardinal Aguiar said. “We need to look beyond our borders, to not be content with only looking for what we can do to help our church in each country, but to gaze beyond like God the Father.”
Migration crisis is affecting Latin America as it is affecting the U.S.
Looking at the migration crisis spanning Latin America, the cardinal said the number of people crossing borders in search of a better life “has increased in an extraordinary way” in the last five years, putting a strain on the immigration system in Mexico just as it has on the U.S. immigration system. He noted that the Mexican bishops’ conference has increased from 40 to 60 the numbers of houses it operates to shelter stranded migrants in northern Mexico, but the church is still overwhelmed by the crisis.
While migrants seeking refuge in the United States often travel through Mexico, Cardinal Aguiar noted that the majority of people trying to reach the United States are not Mexicans; most are from Venezuela or Central America.
“It is worth remembering that they are not doing it for pleasure. It is not like when a tourist goes traveling. Someone migrates when they live in deplorable conditions in their country of origin,” he said. “Truly they are situations that touch our hearts and we cannot help but open the doors.”