Monday, April 05, 2004

Thoughts on Specified Ministry
In the Archdiocese, an important conversation is going on amongst the priests concerning the future of Hispanic ministry in the diocese. Now, I admit that ministry to Hispanics is an integral part of the life of Oklahoma City. We are the recipient of many immigrants coming to the U.S. for a theoretically better life. But there are some wrinkles to Hispanic ministry that most folks don't appreciate. First, unlike previous waves of immigration which bolstered our native amber waves, these immigrants can go back to their native country, especially the wealthier ones. Even those of modest income can still more readily return to Mexico than could their predessors. In some sense the population fluxuates during given times and seasons. Second, while the older members of this immigration do not speak English adequately to outwardly participate in the Liturgy or sacramental formation, just to give two examples, their children do. This impacts then the question of for whom are we providing Hispanic ministry. Third, there is the question of pan-Hispanism. Anyone who had visited Mexico, Central America, South America, and Spain, or any combination thereof, recognizes that language and custom and culture are not exactly the same. In some sense, it could actually complicate ministerial interactions if a South American brings anti-Mexico biases to the table. Therefore, it becomes a question of whether similarity of language is sufficient. Fourth, and related to this previous point, Hispanic ministry has to be more than a language issue. If you are going to integrate Hispanics into the parish, you must provide cultural expressions of the devotional life of these people, and there will be variation between certain groups.

But here's my problem. There is a contingent of priests who assume the only thing we are to do is provide Hispanic ministry. Or that's what their behavior seems to suggest. And I don't want to get into that here. What I guess bothers me is that this group of priests is suggesting that every parish will have the same sort of Hispanic ministry, a plug-and-play matter. It seems to me every parish in the metro OKC area will need to have at least one Mass celebrated in Spanish, some Hispanic devotions, and Hispanic baptismal formation. (BTW, providing Novus Ordo Masses in Latin would assist this as well.) After that, I am not sure what they will need, and that needs to be assessed on a parish by parish case. Also, not every parish is going to have the same concentration of Hispanic folks that others are, and that has to be factored in. It's like they want to exchange the biretta for the somberero. Further, just because there are Hispanics present doesn't mean that all other ministries have to be put on hold. Again, I don't think that they are proposing this, but from the rhetoric that gets thrown around, it does sound that way.

Lastly, I think it is a good idea for all priests who are in dioceses like mine, when they are parochial vicars, to get away from a month of intensive language studies focusing upon sacramental ministry needs. While in the seminary, they should be able to take at least a year of Spanish to familiarize themselves with basic vocabulary and grammar. If they show ability and interest, then the powers that be can encourage and help them develop this obvious gift for language and ministry to a specific culture.

Just to answer your question, yes, I took Spanish in college and spent a month in Guadalajara, Mexico. I can celebrate Mass but not really effectively hear confessions. I really have trouble assimilating language. My interest in language is more like a scholar. I want to know the language so I can read a book, not so that I can talk to folks.

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