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.

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: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.