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: Recovering a sense of celebration

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With the seemingly ever-increasing number of days dedicated to celebrating various causes or events, the Church presents us with the season of Advent, a time of preparation that can help us recover a true sense of celebration.

More than 100 years ago, no less than Friedrich Nietzsche, the frequent critic of traditional values, warned that people were losing the ability to truly celebrate. “The trick is not to arrange a festival,” he said, “but to find people who can enjoy it.”

As a society, we have found so many occasions to celebrate that one digital marketer created the Days of the Year website to keep track of everything from Flossing Day to more serious things like Native American Heritage month. This flurry of partying is amplified by social media posts, likes, and shares, but one is hard pressed to give convincing reasons for commemorating things like Squirrel Appreciation Day.

As a culture, we need to recover the reasons we celebrate and feast, and that must start with one of the greatest events in human history, the moment when God entered human history as a man, which we celebrate at Christmas.

Truly celebrating an occasion, according to the theologian and philosopher Josef Pieper, involves more than just having a good time. It involves participating in “the utmost perfection to which man may attain … the partaking of the utmost fullness that life has to offer.” In other words, through our celebration we connect with and express our longing for the eternal, to be with the God who is love, truth, and mercy for eternity.

Pieper explains this in his book In Tune with the World by saying, “to celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.” And the most radical assent to the world and creation, he says, is to praise God for it, to recognize the gift and beauty of creation.

Pope Francis picked up the theme of celebration in his 2015 series of reflections on the family. During his August 12 general audience, the Holy Father defined celebration as “first and foremost a loving and grateful look at work well done. … It’s time to look at our home, our friends we host, the community that surrounds us, and to think: what a good thing! God did this when he created the world. And he does so again and again, because God is always creating, even at this moment!”

In just a few days, we celebrate Thanksgiving. For many people, the holiday is focused on family, the food, drinks and entertainment rather than the reason for celebrating – giving thanks to God for his provision and blessing. But if we can reconnect with the reason for celebrating, we will experience a deeper, more authentic joy.

Advent, which begins on December 3, presents us with another period of time to direct our hearts and minds toward the great gift of Christ’s coming at Christmas and his eventual Second Coming, when the longing of all creation for eternity will be satisfied.

Pope Francis has noted that the family “is endowed with an extraordinary ability to understand, guide and sustain the authentic value of the time for celebration. How beautiful family celebrations are, they are beautiful! Sunday celebrations in particular.”

Some of the ways that families and individuals can prepare for joyfully celebrating these great gifts include, using an Advent wreath, celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, blessing the Christmas tree, reciting the “O Antiphons,” celebrating the Marian Feasts of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of the New Advent, and making sacrifices in pursuit of spiritual growth. All will lead us to a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ!

During this holiday season, I encourage everyone to rediscover the reasons we celebrate, which open us to the transcendent and help us become people who can truly enjoy the feast.