How can we minister more effectively…

…to young Latino Catholics and help them increase their participation in the Church? These are key questions that are frequently raised and that must be acknowledged and studied carefully as we consider the future of the Catholic Church as well as her numerical growth. If we bear in mind that 44% of all Catholics under the age of thirty in the U.S. are Hispanics (according to the 2013 Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults) it would certainly seem that increasing Hispanic teenagers’ participation in the Church would be beneficial not just for Hispanic families and communities, but also for the future Church in general. Therefore, it is crucial that we comprehend what is happening in their lives to effectively minister to Hispanic teenagers. Indeed, family plays a big part, but what we often neglect is how significantly culture impacts the life of an adolescent. 

Latino Catholics are currently the largest youth segment under eighteen.

The available statistics suggest that many of these young U.S. Latino Catholics are children born to foreign-born parents, while some Latino teenagers are themselves foreign-born. Hence, these adolescents are constantly exposed to two differing cultures, requiring them to discover how to adequately navigate life while interacting with their culture of origin as well as U.S. mainstream culture. Certainly, this presents a major challenge for most teenagers given that these two cultures are dissimilar in their customs, dress, social norms, values, and views of life…

In reflecting on the dynamics of culture and adolescents,

what really stands out is how much culture influences not only their social lives but also their spiritual and ecclesial lives. How does a Hispanic teenager navigate effectively between two different cultures?  This is not an easy task.  A rare few that possess enormous resiliency and appreciation for both cultures are able to develop cultural competency in both cultural worlds and become bicultural. However, some adapt to their new culture and, over time, reject their culture of origin, thereby assimilating to mainstream culture. Others separate themselves from mainstream society by interacting only with people of their family’s country of origin. And a significant number may experience marginalization, in which they have very limited social encounters with those of their culture of origin and of mainstream culture and, consequently, feel isolated, misunderstood, and out of place. 

Furthermore, teenagers naturally struggle with discovering who they are

and with asserting their individuality. Given this reality, young Hispanic Catholics confront the arduous tasks of not only trying to discover their place among two different cultures, but also the additional challenge of taking on the “Catholic culture:” thinking, feeling, speaking and acting as a child of God in the midst of a world that all too often denies God’s existence, ridicules Christian values, and idolizes materialism and consumerism. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Latino adolescents often place a lesser priority on getting actively involved in their parishes. This is particularly true if these teenagers have rejected their parents’ culture because they would most likely reject their parents’ religious views and faith as well.

As we consider this topic and its implications for youth ministry,

we realize that all this reveals how important it is for our parishes to have pastoral ministers that are aware of these cultural conflicts and differences, and that understand both cultural worlds. Therefore, our parishes need Latino leaders to be active in all parish ministries that involve the youth, especially if the current leaders are not bicultural. Our teenagers need leaders that understand their cultural struggles, that can provide guidance and support during their moments of crisis, and that have the ability to help teenagers discover how the power of the Gospel can guide them throughout the very difficult stage of adolescence.

Youth ministers have the privilege and duty to aid the youth

in discovering that their identity is child of God, that they can be Christians wherever they are, and that their Christian beliefs can influence their dress, their attitudes and behaviors, their way of living, and their interpretation of life and the meaning of its events.  It is also imperative for youth ministry leaders to facilitate the participation of their youth in their parishes and to coordinate activities that can help create healthy bonds of friendship for teenagers, particularly for those who are living in a world of dual cultures. I believe these are some of the things we must take into consideration as we attempt to figure out how to bring the Gospel to our youth, and our youth—with their struggles—to Christ in His Church.

1 thought on “Ministering to Young Latino Catholics

  1. Agreed! My first career was as a youth ministry director for three parishes, so we have a few things in common.

    Have you any ideas on how to better integrate cultures within the church? We have a large hispanic culture, as well as a sizable Sudanese population in our community — but our communities remain segregated, rarely interacting. I think this is sad. Should not the dominant culture in a community create a more welcoming, listening, hospitable community for subcultures, especially when we share a common faith? How might we do that? Have you any ideas?

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