Hispanics: A Blessing and a Challenge!

September 15 began a month-long celebration of Hispanic Heritage. 1024px-US_Army_53334_Hispanic_heritage_danceAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Census, there are 55.4 million Hispanics living in the United States. In other words, Hispanics comprise 17% of the total U.S. population. These numbers represent a blessing and a challenge, pastorally speaking. The following paragraphs attempt to demonstrate this dual reality–the Hispanic presence in the U.S. as a blessing and a challenge.

History informs us that U.S. Hispanics are descendants of those Indians and mestizos who suffered the “discovery of the New World”, along with conquest and colonization. Hispanics are the descendants of those who did not cross a border, but against whom a border was created. Recently, this fact has been brought to the fore through a song popularized by Los Tigres del Norte, “Somos mas Americanos!” At the Latin Grammy Awards last year, they were accompanied by another popular Spanish pop music group, Mana. Both music groups are the descendants of those immigrants who came to this nation looking for a better life and more opportunities. Our country was called “a nation of immigrants” by Mitt Romney, in his speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention four years ago.

U.S. Hispanics who still suffer the struggles of deprivation and discrimination have not lost their strength and identity. Their aguante (unyielding endurance) is grounded in their popular expressions of Catholicism. In their lived faith, the figures of Jesus and Mary are most important. The U.S. Hispanic Jesus is the crucified Jesus, as described by Roberto Goizueta, Hispanic theologian and professor at Boston College. This is the “Jesus made of flesh-and-blood like us. The blood on his face, side, hands, and feet are the signs of his humanity; not the abstract ‘humanity’ of the philosophers and theologians, but the flesh-and-blood humanity of those who dare to kiss his wounds.” Regarding Mary, it is important to note first that in almost each Latin American country, there is at least one image of Mary that is revered. However, there is one which shines forth brightly in its significance. She is Our Lady of Guadalupe. The reasons for the particular devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe are explained by Orlando Espín, professor of theology and director of the Center for Study of Latino/a Catholicism at the University of San Diego: “For historical  reasons, however, there is one Mary who stands out as unique among Hispanics’ Marys, and that is la Morenita, Our Lady of Guadalupe. No other popular religious devotion is as closely linked to a people’s self-identity, or socio-historical context, as is the Mexican devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe; none other is more deeply ‘ours.’”

However, it is not only the Hispanic’s “aguante” that is a significant characteristic, it is also their sense of “fiesta”- a unique theological category. According to Guizeta, “Fiesta” for U.S. Hispanics is not the same as a party. “Fiesta” expresses a deep commitment to social justice and a pledge to resist all forms of instrumentalization and objectification. It is an authentic communal celebration of the U.S. Hispanic’s identity, where “nosotros” does not just have the simple meaning of the English pronoun “we,” but rather, “we others”. These new “we others” are conscious of the historical, cultural and anthropological reality of mestizaje. This latter word is defined by Virgilio Elizondo, the father of U.S Hispanic Latin/a theology and former professor of theology at Notre Dame, as “the process through which two totally different peoples mix biologically and culturally so that a new people begins to emerge.”

Thus, U.S. Hispanics, whose ancestors suffered the “discovery,” conquest, and colonization, have risen to celebrate their original culture. Their aguante is grounded in their popular Catholicism which is rooted in the love of the crucified Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These central devotions are celebrated through fiesta, which, in turn, are a blessing for the Catholic Church and society in general.

Through “aguante” and “fiesta” Hispanics are a public, religious presence. However, demographics involving Hispanics are a challenge, pastorally speaking. Dr. Hosffman Ospino, Hispanic theologian and professor at Boston College, says: “61 percent of Hispanics are U.S.-born. 37.3 percent of Hispanics 30 and older are in this category. Yet more striking is the fact that 93 percent of all Hispanics under the age of 18 are U.S.-born. Any form of pastoral planning and strategy for evangelization in the church today is to consider these figures, mindful that most of these young Hispanics are likely to be growing up in Catholic households.”

This data reflects the challenge Hispanics and, in particular, young Hispanics pose for Catholic ministry in the U.S. It is important to note that in his research Ospino discovered that young Hispanics are one of the ten signs of vitality in parishes with Hispanic ministry.

This sign of vitality that Ospino speaks of can be seen in the Religious Education programs, schools and parishes in the U.S. where Hispanics attend and celebrate Mass. Ospino found that “two-thirds of the children enrolled in faith formation programs are Hispanics. The large participation of Hispanic children in programs of faith formation suggests the active presence of young families.”

These same young families are the key population to reach out to in order to keep Hispanics participating in and serving within the Catholic Church. Their children need bilingual and multicultural programs to create in them a sense of appreciation for their uniqueness within diversity. They must grow to appreciate their gifts as created in the image and likeness of God.

A bilingual and multicultural religious education program can eventually lead to the flourishing of a new society in which every single person is valued equally. This understanding can help to overcome the marginalization that Hispanics have been suffering in the history of the U.S.

The pastoral challenge presented by the demographics of the Hispanic population in this country requires a bilingual and multicultural religious education which will recognize the unique image of God that this group represents within our Church.

Thus, U.S. Hispanics are a blessing for the society of the United States, but equally a particular pastoral challenge for the Church of the United States

Do you think society in general sees the increasing numbers of Hispanics as a blessing?

What is your parish community offering to the Hispanics living within it?

Nelson Araque teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Church for Saint Joseph’s College Online’s Pastoral Ministry to Latino Catholics Program.

Book Review: Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories

As a cradle Byzantine Catholic I am well acquainted with the word “mercy.” I once counted the number of times priest and people intoned the words mercy, merciful or mercies in the Divine Liturgy. It’s fifty-four: 54 times in the course of an hour in which we beseech God’s mercy on ourselves and others. Fifty-four uses of the word mercy, not counting the particular propers, verses, and other special prayers of the day. In my lifetime, worshiping in the Liturgy alone, I’ve asked for God’s mercy hundreds of thousands of times – and, God willing, I’ll continue to seek His mercy for hundreds of thousands more. Despite all of this familiarity with mercy from my spiritual tradition, it took Pope Francis’ proclamation of a Jubilee of Mercy to get my attention and prod me to deep contemplation of not just the word mercy, but what it means for my relationship with God and others, and its vital role in my spiritual and emotional well-being. My journey into the heart of mercy has only just begun, and I now understand it’s meant to be a lifelong work. This summer I found a companion for this journey, one that opened me to new avenues of accessing and understanding not only God’s limitless font of mercy, but His enduring and immeasurable love for me.

“I wrote this book to share the good news that Jesus Christ heals our memories.” The opening line of Dawn Eden’s latest book, Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself From Painful Memories, sets the stage for a spiritual journey written in the simple and effective language of a daughter of God inviting her readers to join in the search for His mercy. What we learn from reading is that the search isn’t really ours at all; rather, God looks for us, invites us, and waits for us to enter into the protection of His merciful love. Despite the emphasis on mercy in the Divine Liturgy, I needed to remember (or perhaps truly learn) that God’s mercy is not a concept, or a “thing” to be acquired, but God’s offering of Himself to me. Remembering God’s Mercy is that reminder – and much more.

I first encountered Dawn Eden when I read The Thrill of the Chaste.  Though I’m a “cradle Catholic,” I was in my post-metanoia phase, having undergone a serious re-conversion a few years earlier. At the time Dawn was a fairly new Catholic herself, and I was drawn to her zeal for Christ, and her poetic yet eminently readable style and good humor. I followed her exploits via her blog, and eventually we met, collaborated, and became friends. Her journey to finding the Faith, finding her vocation, and finding healing through God’s mercy is something I could relate to – especially in acknowledging that it’s not a journey with an end (not in this life, anyway) but a pilgrimage with ever-new and wonderful beginnings.

In some ways Remembering God’s Mercy picks up where Dawn’s second book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints ends. In that book she gods-mercy-edenreveals her painful memories of sexual abuse and its fall out: from a loss of belief in God to the questionable lifestyle choices that exacerbated her pain instead of alleviating it. My Peace is her story of conversion and healing, told through the example of saints who experienced trauma and abuse, lived through it and became, well…saints! The book is a personal story of hope, but also a primer on the Church’s teaching on the communion of Saints. Sure, they’re in heaven now – but they know all too well our struggles here in the trenches because they struggled too, and they’ve become our companions, intercessors and advocates.

In Remembering God’s Mercy, Dawn turns to Pope Francis’ pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on God’s mercy for inspiration – and the continuation of her pilgrimage of healing. For me, personally, the Pope’s call to embrace God’s mercy has been a profound learning experience. Perhaps my own tendency toward judgment and mercilessness toward others is due (not unlike the man in the parable) to my lack of appreciating the great mercy that has been freely given to me – to each of us. Acknowledging this weakness and learning from it is a big step toward seeking and accepting God’s mercy toward us, and being merciful to others in turn. Using the words of Pope Francis, as well as the particular example of SS. Ignatius Loyola and Peter Faber, Dawn invites readers to bring their personal experience, doubts, and pain to the well of God’s mercy and jump in. It isn’t easy – as Dawn’s story testifies – but it’s a risk we don’t take on our own. Grace is the life preserver that weak and frightened spiritual swimmers (like me) need in order to dive into the ocean of His mercy. “Grace,” says Dawn, quoting Francis, “enables us ‘to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others.’”

Obviously for Dawn healing memory has a particular meaning relevant to her past experience of sexual abuse. But don’t let that deter you from reading the book. I admit to having been a little wary myself at the start, wondering if I’d be able to relate to an experience of memory (and mercy) so different from my own. It didn’t take long to realize that this isn’t a book exclusively – or primarily – for sexual abuse survivors. As I read I became aware that my own memory, while not filled with similar traumatic events, is also wounded and in need of healing. I can recall criticisms received when I was a child, embarrassing events from more than 30 years ago, and mistakes ranging from little boo-boos to producing life-altering consequences. Many of these memories are tightly bound and held in my consciousness, popping out in times of anxiety, change, and spiritual unease. I hadn’t realized how spiritually damaging such memories are – not to mention the toll they take on my self-esteem. Nor had I ever considered that God, in His infinite love for me, desired to heal these memories by an outpouring of His mercy. Worse yet, I never thought to ask. This revelation alone made reading the book provided unexpected comfort and hope.

Remembering God’s Mercy is a mini-retreat, an invitation to deep contemplation as well as an instruction on mercy through Scripture and the example of the saints. My favorite parts of the book are those where Dawn asks questions for personal reflection, and when she invites the reader to pray with her. (Her reflection on the Seven Sorrows in chapter 4 particularly touched me, and I will surely use it for further contemplation.) I was also moved by her recollection of being introduced to the Jesus Prayer by her friend and fellow convert Jeffry Hendrix, who later succumbed to kidney cancer. This simple yet powerful prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner – comes easily to my lips as an Eastern Catholic; perhaps too easily. Dawn recounts her discomfort with the prayer, believing it to be more a recitation of her wretchedness than a form of praise and supplication. It seems that trying to say the prayer was a fruitless effort. Only when faced with desperation (Dawn recounts an incident of where a painful memory from her past overtook her, causing great anxiety) did the words of the Jesus Prayer spontaneously arise from deep inside her:

“I said it again. And again. And, as I did, something happened…. The prayer was not leading me to self-pity. It was opening my heart to the purifying love of God.”

This is the beauty of God’s mercy in action, and the lesson we must learn in order to be embraced by it: to simply let go and be loved. Of course, God’s mercy comes with the charge to be formed by it, to be changed. But I must first know that God’s mercy is available to me, that He wants to give it to me, and that I am worthy of receiving it. It doesn’t matter if that knowledge comes as a result of the desperation Dawn describes, or if we can only weakly or even skeptically cry out to Him. God is there in our desperation and weakness and skepticism. As Pope Francis says, God “waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us.”

Remembering God’s Mercy is a book one doesn’t simply read; it is to be contemplated. Dawn generously invites us into her heart and her faith, but the book isn’t a memoir; nor is it a “how-to” on surviving trauma. It is a call to personal reflection and an invitation to prayer. It is a book for everyone because it speaks to that longing in our hearts to be known by God, loved by Him, and held in His heart. Most importantly, the book is Dawn’s (and, if we join her, the reader’s) hymn of praise to the God who will never forget us, “for his mercy endures forever”!

*Final note – In her previous life, Dawn Eden was a rock and roll journalist, and music remains an important part of her life. A song she wrote for The Anderson Council lit up the airwaves on XM Radio this summer, and it’s worth a listen!

Ann Koshute teaches theology for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.