Kensington: Accommodating the Growing Number of Hispanic Catholics in Philadelphia

As of 2010, the United States is second behind Mexico in its expanding Hispanic population of 50.5 million.

This growth is apparent in the Philadelphia, where its Hispanic population has more than doubled from 1990 to 2010, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.

There are 60,000 registered Hispanic Catholics within the Archdiocese, with the total including unregistered Hispanic Catholics at around 200,00.
There are 60,000 registered Hispanic Catholics within the Archdiocese and an estimated combined total of 200,000 unregistered and registered Hispanic Catholics.

Not only is the new population Hispanic, about 68 percent of Latinos in the U.S. consider themselves Roman Catholic.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia serves about 60,000 Hispanic Catholics that are registered with parishes. When you count the Latino Catholics not registered with parishes, the number is closer 200,000 according to Father Bruce Lewandowski, Vicar for Cultural Ministries at the Archdiocese.

Father Bruce oversees the Office for Hispanic Catholics where he’s been serving the Catholic Latino community of Philadelphia for the past three years.

Emigrated Hispanic Catholics in Philadelphia face many challenges, including language barriers and cultural assimilation.

Father Bruce categorizes the goals for Latino Catholics as into three categories; practical goals,  attitudinal goals and structural goals within the Archdiocese.

While there is a push to get more priests to help serve the growing population, there are some goals that extend beyond simply adding more bodies.

Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary holds mass in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“There is a push to do faith formation for younger generations of Hispanic Catholics,” Father Bruce said. “As generations get further and further from their arrival time to this country their faith becomes less important.”

This is a trend that Father Bruce says the Archdiocese is trying to make sure doesn’t happen. In addition to this push, Father Bruce believes that the church should reinvent or repackage itself for every generation.

“The church has to sort of marry those things and reinvent itself to different generations and people,” Father Bruce said.

There are now communities where they have Spanglish mass where the priests and the people have to speak in both languages, very often at the same time. This is a very different experience for older generations.

On one hand you have parents and grandparents who want the complete Spanish language mass they had in Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Peru.

On the other hand you have young Hispanics who have a language they learned from their parents, but also the language they learned speak at school and with their friends.

A duality exists in what the faith means to different generations of Hispanics. “The church has been multicultural since the beginning,” Father Bruce said. “It was always trying to come up with ways to communicate to the next group of people in a way that would be effective and meaningful to them”.

There is need to establish more Hispanic leaders in the Laity. The church relies heavily on laypeople in the Hispanic community to assume a lot of the roles that a priest, deacon or a sister would.

Father Bruce believes it’s important to cultivate good leadership in the Hispanic community through a good lay program. He has seen this approach succeed in other communities and argues that it can help in our area.

Around 500 Hispanic Catholics gather for Spanish language mass on Sundays at Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Church.

“We have a communities in Quakertown and Levittown that are completely run by laypeople,” Father Bruce said. “They prepare people for marriage, prepare people for baptism, work on religious education programs with young people, they run the youth group, they have retreats, everything is run by the laypeople. The priest only goes there for sacraments on Sunday.”

Immigration Services at the Archdiocese helps the mostly Hispanic immigrant population within the Archdiocese. “They serve around 900 hundred cases a year,” Father Bruce said. “A good number are helped by the two immigration lawyers at the Archdiocese.”  is to have the hierarchical structure of the church to more reflect the people of the church. Simply put, this means having more Hispanic Catholics in administration.

“The Archdiocese is full of offices that serve different aspects of parish life,” Father Bruce said. “To see Hispanics assume responsibility and take responsibility in administration to lead and guide the church into the future, I think is important. I think it’s crucial, actually.”

“The majority of the archdiocese in Los Angeles is Latino. So much so that while here we have the Office for Hispanic Catholics, there they have the Office for European American,” Father Bruce said.

No matter how big the Hispanic population gets, local Catholic leaders are poised to make accommodating adjustments for them to feel welcomed.

– Text, video and images by Oscar Castillo  

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