By HOSFFMAN OSPINO
Catholics in the United States have excelled in developing amazing structures and resources for pastoral leadership formation at all levels in seminaries, houses of formation, colleges and universities, pastoral institutes, online programs and catechetical formation initiatives, among others.
After visiting Catholic communities in several parts of the world, I get the sense that no other nation has as many highly educated and well-qualified Catholic pastoral leaders as we do in the U.S.
This reflects, in many ways, the social and cultural context within which we build faith communities, the importance given by our society to education and professional training, and the access to countless resources for education.
However, a large contingent of highly qualified pastoral leaders is not something that happens overnight. It took decades to educate them. Most of these well-formed pastoral leaders are white, Euro-American.
For half a century, major demographic and cultural transformations have been reshaping the U.S. Catholic experience. Cultural diversity is the order of the day. In less than two decades, most Catholics in the country will self-identify as Hispanic. Many parts of the country are already there.
It is not far-fetched to anticipate that a large number, if not most Catholic pastoral leaders in the near future will come from Hispanic communities. How much are we investing in those leaders and their communities?
Now is the time to form the pastoral leaders who will be leading the church’s evangelization efforts in our land tomorrow. We want them to be also as well-qualified as those with whom we are most familiar. That means that we need to invest seriously in their formation.
The conversation about the pastoral formation of Hispanic Catholics goes hand-in-hand with questions of educational attainment. About 18 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. has a college degree, compared to about 50 percent of white, Euro-American Catholics.
Since nearly two-thirds of Hispanics are Catholic, this means that the Catholic Church institutionally needs to get involved in conversations about helping Hispanics to become better educated.
If Hispanic Catholics finish high school and attain college degrees, the pool of potential well-qualified pastoral leaders will increase dramatically.
This means that more Hispanics will be in better position to enter seminaries to discern a vocation to the priesthood.
There will likely be larger numbers of Hispanics entering formation programs to discern vocations to religious life, lay ecclesial ministry, the permanent diaconate and other forms of professional pastoral service in the church and in the larger society. It will take decades of commitment and investment to make this happen.
At the same time, we need the Hispanics who currently self-identify as Catholic remain so.
This means that we must accompany these Catholic women and men through processes of faith formation, creating welcoming spaces for them to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and provide them with resources that affirm their identity as Christian disciples.
We live in a historical time in which we need to place the best resources that the Catholic community in the United States has developed for the formation of pastoral leaders at the service of Hispanic Catholics: seminaries, houses of formation, colleges and universities, pastoral institutes, online programs and catechetical formation initiatives, among others.
We need to build more of these institutions in the geographical regions where Hispanics are largely concentrated, particularly the South and the West.
We definitely need the best possible resources to form these pastoral leaders now, in English and Spanish, and in other languages, to lead the way building strong Catholic faith communities during the rest of the 21st century.
Let us invest in tomorrow’s Catholic leaders today.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.