Q&A: Alejandro Bermudez to open St. John Paul II Lecture Series

Executive director of Catholic News Agency on the growing Hispanic demographic in the Catholic U.S.

Therese Bussen

The Catholic Church has always been universal, embracing the diversity of every land, race and culture as she has spread to the ends of the earth. In the U.S., the demographics of the Church are changing rapidly: According to Pew Research Center, Hispanics make up 34 percent of the Church, and of the millennial generation, 54 percent are Hispanic, which sets the ethnic demographic on track to change the face of the Church as we know it today.

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency, will speak Sept. 5 at the St. John Paul II Lecture Series in the Archdiocese of Denver on this topic and how the U.S. Church and all its faithful should respond.

 

Denver Catholic: The number of Hispanics in the U.S. is continually growing – how are we seeing that reflect in our parishes and how is it impacting the cultural dynamics there?

Alejandro Bermudez: Currently, 34 percent of the total population of Catholics in the U.S. is Hispanic/Latino, and currently a whopping 22 percent of  U.S. Catholics — one in five — were born in Latin America and the Caribbean. In some areas of the U.S., like the South for example, Catholicism is experiencing a significant growth, and Latinos are the driving force of the birth of “mega parishes.” These numbers are even more relevant if we consider that 56 percent of U.S. Catholic millennials, that is, a majority, are Hispanic/Latino. This means that probably every aspect of the life of the Church in the U.S. will be touched by this demographic factor.

 

DC: Your lecture on Sept. 5 will show how this issue is one that needs to be seen beyond the debate of immigration. Why is this so important for Catholics to realize?

AB: In fact, when we think about Hispanics, we mostly think about the complex immigration issues, from immigration law to immigration enforcements. But Catholics committed to the New Evangelization should think instead on how Hispanics are reshaping the nature of American Catholicism as radically as the Irish, who not only changed but determined the face of the U.S. Catholic Church as we know it. A similar seismic shift is on its way now, and we should not miss it as a crucial phenomenon that will determine our future.

 

DC: How can the Church accompany the growing Hispanic population?

AB: The Church in the U.S. has been making tremendous efforts to accommodate the new demographics, but we need to evolve from the belief that Hispanics are “a pastoral issue” that requires its own diversity pastorally, to one that understands that they are the new face of the Church, that the whole Church is turning Hispanic.

 

DC: How can parishioners welcome the changing dynamic?

AB: Because they are shaping the immediate future of our Church, Hispanics should not only be welcomed and accommodated in our parishes because of our Christian charity. It’s also the smart thing to do for the future of the Catholic Church in America. The more we integrate Hispanics with the values they bring to the table, the stronger our Catholic community will be able to face a rather uncertain future for religion in America.

 

DC: What is the significance of Hispanic Catholics in the present and future of the U.S. Church?

AB: As we face the first generation in U.S. history, millennials, to have so many members who are “spiritual but not religious” and vastly claim to have no religious affiliation, Catholicism is one of the few denominations in America that is still growing. The reason? Hispanics and their birthrate. But at the same time, young Hispanics are becoming unchurched at a very fast rate. We need to make sure that we Catholics have an evangelization plan not only to survive, but to thrive. Hispanics are the key component of that plan.

 

The lecture on Sept. 5 will be held  in the refectory of St. John Vianney Seminary at 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, and will begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information, or to RSVP, visit archden.org/lecture.

COMING UP: Forming mind and heart in faith

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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

People tell me pretty regularly that we should not over-intellectualizing the faith — making the Church simply about ideas, doctrines, and rules. I agree that this can be a problem, but we also have to guard seriously against an opposite problem — emotionalizing and privatizing faith. We are blessed with a reasonable faith that can be studied in harmony with the truth of the natural world. Faith and reason strengthen one another, together leading our minds to conform to the mind of the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. In the midst of a secularism which pits science against the faith, it is important that we form our minds in the truth. Being rooted in the truth of our faith does not lead to abstract ideas, but to an encounter with the living God which sets our hearts on fire with His love.

The Dominicans have a long history of teaching the faith, founded originally to preach to those who had fallen into the dualistic heresy of Albigensian and producing the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. The papal theologian, who advised the pope, by tradition comes from St. Dominic’s Order. One of the most renown Dominicans teaching in the United States, Father Thomas Joseph White, has recently been called to Rome to teach at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of the Dominicans. Father White, though a profound scholar, has produced a clear and accessible overview of the Catholic faith.

Father White’s book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Catholic University of America Press, 2017) offers a serious overview of the Catholic faith. It is not a scholarly work, but one that does challenge us to enter more deeply into the theological tradition of the Church, flowing from the Bible and Catechism, the Fathers, and especially the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part of the genius of the book is how it uses the theological tradition to address contemporary concerns such as evolution, sexual ethics, and relativism. The book contains seven major sections—Reason and Revelation, God and Trinity, Creation and the Human Person, Incarnation and Atonement, the Church, Social Doctrine, and the Last Things—as well as a robust epilogue on prayer.

Father White challenges us to “to be an intellectual. . . to seek to see into the depths of reality” (1). As intellectual beings, we have been created in the image of God and are called to enter into his truth and life. Therefore, White reminds us that “every person has to accept risk in truth’s call to us. Even religious indifference is a kind of risk, perhaps the greatest of all, for if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. The mind is reason’s instrument, but the heart its seat” (5). Therefore, the ultimate questions lead the mind into prayerful contemplation of the truth. Theology cannot remain an intellectual enterprise alone, but must lead us to encounter God in prayer: “Prayer is grounded in our natural desire for the truth. When we pray we are trying to find God, to praise him, and to see all things realistically in light of him. In a sense, then, prayer stems from a search for perspective” (288).

Our faith forms us as a whole person and shapes our feelings and desires according to what is highest. Father White rightly points out that “heart and intelligence go together” (49). When it comes to God, intellectual theory is not enough, as he calls us to know him in a “concrete, personal, affective relationship” (48). This does not mean that we can dispense with theology. Quite to the contrary, “we want to get right who God is, and what the mystery of Christ is, so that we can be in living contact with divine love” (42). God speaks to us so that we may come to know him by exercising our minds to know the truth given us through the Church (36).

Knowing God is the work a lifetime and our eternal vocation. We can strengthen our faith by studying theological truths and deepening our capacity to contemplate divine things. Father White’s book will help us all to be theologians, entering into the practice of theology as faith seeking understanding. As we come to know God more, it should lead us to fall in love with him more deeply, strengthening our relationship with him and preparing us to see him face to face.