That is, unless you say it like this: “Somos el Cuerpo del Christo.” At least that is what the New York Times suggests in yesterday’s edition of the paper. The headline, “As Mexicans Fill Pews, Church Leaders Are Slow to Welcome Them,” implies something of negligence on the part of Church officials in the lethargy exhibited in welcoming the increasing Latino population, while the piece also identifies the good news of a revitalization in the area of Church attendance and youthful communities.
As the Roman Catholic Church in the United States struggles with an exodus of American-born faithful, its ranks have been replenished by recent Latino immigrants — most of them Mexicans, who have brought an intense faith and a youthful energy. That buoying effect is especially evident in New York City, where the Mexican population has grown more than 25-fold since 1980. In parishes where they have settled, they have flocked to church, replacing worshipers who have died, moved away, defected to evangelical congregations or abandoned religion altogether.
“If we lost all our Mexicans,” said the Rev. Francis Skelly, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in the Bronx, “we’d be in big trouble.”
Yet while no one expects anything that drastic, some clergy members, parishioners and even bishops say that decades after Mexicans began streaming into New York, the city’s two dioceses still have not done nearly enough to attract and hold on to Mexican Catholics, particularly younger immigrants and their children.
I just heard on NPR this morning that Latino populations now make up the largest minority population in the United States and represent the most significant percentage of young people. While other populations in the U.S. are witnessing decreasing birth rates, the Latino population is on the rise — something that can be seen as a particularly favorable asset in an age when Canada and other “Western” countries (in Europe and places like Japan) are experiencing negative population rates. The increasing Latino presence in the U.S. is good news for the workforce, at least that was the point of the NPR story.
Meanwhile, many of those who immigrate to this country from Latin American nations of origin are very likely Catholic. While several generations from now might reflect a process of cultural and idiomatic assimilation like the waves of European and Asian immigrants to the U.S. of ages past, today’s challenge for the country and Church is to meet these women and men — many of them very young with young families — where they are. It requires learning Spanish, just as priests and religious learned the languages of the immigrants in German and Italian ghettos of before.
Although I didn’t take this article to be a negative response to the efforts launched by the New York and Brooklyn dioceses, I did see in the article a challenge to Church leaders to redouble efforts to welcome and embrace the Spanish-speaking populations that are continuing to grow in the Metro NY area. If we fail to reach out to the “stranger and immigrant” among us, then we fail to recognize that we are all members of the Body of Christ.