By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Catholics of Hispanic/Latino descent are in the midst of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Running from 15 September to 15 October, the annual observance provides Catholic Hispanic/Latinos the opportunity of exploring their own contribution in the life of the wider Catholic community in the country.
This year, the month has significant meaning as the Hispanic/Latino Catholic community continues to process the national V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry that took place in 2018. This year’s observance, however, also coincides with the publication of Pope Francis’s new Encyclical Fratelli tutti.
In an interview with Bishop Cepeda, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit and Chairman of the United States Bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, explains the gifts that Hispanic/Latino Catholics contribute. These gifts fit in well with Pope Francis’s proposal of fraternity and social friendship in the Encyclical and are well understood by Hispanic/Latino Catholics because, as Bishop Cepeda says, “the Pope speaks our language”.
Context of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the U.S.
Hispanic Heritage Month highlights the “historic and current contribution of Hispanic and Latinos and their leadership in all spheres of our Church and our society”, Bishop Cepeda says. In preparation for the last V Encuentro in 2018, he says that significant demographic research was conducted. That research shows that “from 1990 to 2016 the U.S. Hispanic/Latino Catholic population increased by about 13.7 million, while the overall U.S. Catholic population only increased by about 3.6 million.”
This growth is “something to be celebrated”, the Bishop continues. In 2016, about 52% of the general Hispanic/Latino population identified themselves as Catholic when surveyed. If the Hispanic/Latino population continues to grow at the same rate, they will represent about 60% of the Catholic population in the U.S. in the year 2040, Bishop Cepeda says.
The most important gift that Hispanic/Latino Catholics bring to the Church in the U.S. is the faith, Bishop Cepeda says.
“We celebrate our faith within our Church, in our communities. We celebrate our faith with our families, and we want to continue to celebrate our faith in the larger context of our society.”
Bishop Cepeda then says one of the greatest gifts is the “sense of community…that sense of being together, of solidarity, of being united with our own planet, celebrating and respecting life, our own Catholic traditions, our great love for Our Lady and the celebration of our faith through the sacraments.”
This is a sign of hope, the Bishop says, in a society divided by racism that is also grappling with Covid. “We find strength within our families”, he said, “and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts – and that openness to talk to one another, to listen to one another and to be able to encounter one another.”
Latinos with a Latino Pope
It was with “great joy” that the Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S. received the news that a fellow Latino had been elected Pope in 2013.
“He speaks our language. He knows our hearts and we are together with him. … The best thing about Evangelii gaudium when he talks about a culture of encounter, he’s speaking our language. And I think that’s so important for us when he invites us to take the first step, to go as a Church that is not afraid to be missionary, that is not afraid to take that first step, to primeriar. We understand that language. And I think that really helps us to move forward as missionary disciples.”