| For Latinos, shared parishes offer chance to shape church's future
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — For the 11th year earlier this month, Latino Catholics from the Smoky Mountain towns of western North Carolina joined thousands of other Catholics from the Carolinas walking a morning pilgrimage to the Charlotte Convention Center for the diocese's Eucharistic Congress.
The event draws strong participation — an estimated 50 percent of the 13,000 registrants — from the burgeoning Catholic Hispanic population of the Carolinas.
Many are Mexican-Americans who work in the construction and service trades, illustrating the presence of an estimated 15,000 Catholic Hispanics living in border region of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Diocesan Hispanic ministry officials said Latino Catholics in the region have cultivated a kind of seamless lifelong approach to Catholic formation, encompassing youth, young adults, married couples, charismatic groups and the wider community working together in a multigenerational catechesis.
"They have been working five to seven years in the Smoky Mountains on that idea of bringing the whole family together. In this family endeavor, there is no need to isolate different groups. We can come together, interact and meet together," said Carlos Castaneda, a Hispanic ministry coordinator for the Charlotte Diocese.
"The figure of Pope Francis has also helped us to get out the message of love, to come together and enjoy life."
Many of the same Smoky Mountain Latino families will see Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Arriving by bus, they will join an estimated 300 Hispanic families from the wider Atlanta Province at the Vatican-sponsored gathering.
The presence of Latinos in Philadelphia and to the six-day papal visit overall will serve as a reminder of where the U.S. Catholic population is growing — not in the corridors of political power or business along the Eastern seaboard, not in the Midwestern rust belt, but in great swaths of southern and western states.
The Census and other demographic data show:
• In 2020, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics will be about even with non-Hispanic white Catholics in the U.S.
• Hispanics represent 71 percent of the U.S. Catholic population growth since the 1960s.
• About two-thirds of school-age Catholic children in the U.S. are Latino.
• Some 4,500 U.S. parishes have a form of Hispanic ministry mostly oriented to immigrants.
The numbers reveal a "tale of two churches shaping the priorities and decisions about evangelization in our day," said Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, who has researched and written several books on Catholic Hispanic populations in the context of parishes and Catholic schools.
"The present and future of Catholicism in the U.S. is being shaped by important dynamics in these two parts of the country — the South and the West," he said. The church is somewhat out of sync nationally in terms of resource development and priorities because of a "vast diversity of experiences in the different regions where Catholicism has grown roots," he explained.
Ospino noted that parishes historically have been the best structures to channel a response to evangelization, including Hispanic ministry, yet 61 percent of U.S. parishes remain clustered in traditional Catholic centers of the Northeast and Midwest while the South and West most need additional churches, schools and universities.
For Latino Catholics, another mismatch of resources-to-needs exists in Catholic education, which is considered crucial for handing on the faith and religious traditions as well as providing the best opportunities for the next generation of Catholics.
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