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Hispanic Ministry at a Crossroads


Entre Amigos – Opinion / Commentary

By Mar Muñoz-Visoso


As the end of 2011 draws near, we have—somehow quietly—marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of an Office for Hispanic Affairs at the home of the Bishops' Conference in Washington. To be sure, the idea and the office did not originate here in DC, but it still remains a milestone to be celebrated— one of several important anniversaries coming up during 2012.

Much effort went into the establishment of a national Office of Hispanic Affairs. In 1945, the first Bishop's Committee for the Spanish-Speaking — and corresponding office — was established under the auspices of Archbishop Robert E. Lucey by the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) in San Antonio, Texas. The focus of the committee was the plight of migrant workers in the southwest. In many western and southwestern dioceses Spanish-speaking councils were established in the 1940's and 50's. In 1968, with the reorganization of the NCWC (the origin of what today is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or USCCB) and with the aim to go beyond regional concerns, the national office for the Spanish-Speaking became the Division for the Spanish-Speaking, under the Department of Social Development of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The office was still located in San Antonio.

Finally in 1971, the office was moved to Washington with the charge of assisting the Church in its response to the pastoral and social needs of a growing number of Hispanic Catholics around the country. Its mission was to serve as an advocate for the pastoral needs and public policy issues affecting the Spanish-Speaking community. This mandate clearly went beyond the scope of the "material" and "social concerns," giving a special emphasis to the need for an intentional and organized pastoral outreach. Thus, in 1974 the Division for the Spanish-Speaking moved out the Department of Social Development and became the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs. In 2008, a new reorganization of the USCCB brought both the Bishop's Committee and Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs under the much broader Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. They continue to operate as the Sub-Committee and the Office for Hispanic Affairs.

Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, made a great summary of the history and accomplishments of Catholic Hispanic ministry in modern history in a meeting at the end of September in San Antonio, Texas, with national and regional organizations dedicated to serving Hispanics. His remarkscan be found on the USCCB media blog (

On behalf of the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs, Bishop Vásquez also laid out the challenges ahead and invited the leadership of these organizations to think of the steps necessary to adapt their organizational and leadership structures and services to the requirements of a new age. Much like the history of the USCCB's Hispanic Affairs Office, the history of Hispanic ministry in the country has evolved and produced different structures and styles of leadership to meet the challenges of the times.

There is much to be hopeful about in the results of this meeting, in which a comprehensive look at the new realities, new exigencies and the existing structures was initiated. This dialogue, which will continue now within the participating organizations, including regional and diocesan structures and pastoral institutes, signals also new partnerships and opportunities for collaboration in which universities and foundations will, more than likely, have an enhanced role. Apostolic movements, already a key player, will also see their role as partners grow in the new evangelization of Hispanics.

Along these lines, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles recently made a call to "recover the sense of awe and possibility that inspired the first evangelization of our continent." The archbishop made his comments at the inaugural Hispanic Ministry and Theology Lecture at Loyola Marymount University on October 11. He also said Hispanic Catholics are called to be "spiritual and moral leaders" in the "new evangelization of America" and that "America needs our Hispanic Catholic witness for the renewal of her national soul."

As we await to see what develops from the meeting at the emblematic Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio (MACC, formerly known as the Mexican American Cultural Center)—itself an institution in the education and leadership promotion for Hispanic Ministry in the nation—we ready ourselves for some important celebrations in the coming year, namely: the 40th anniversary of the First National Encuentro de Pastoral Hispana; the 20th anniversary of the first "Raíces y Alas" Congress; the 20th anniversary of the creation of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors of Hispanic Ministry (NCADDHM); and, the 10th anniversary of the publication of "Encuentro and Mission: A renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry" (Yes, it has been ten years!)

With all these anniversaries coming up and dialogues happening around the country, expect Hispanics Catholics to make some noise in the months to come, and to invite you to join them in partnership and celebration. In the meantime, calls for a national event and a consultative process at the local, regional and national levels are becoming louder and louder. Perhaps it will be a 4th Encuentro orperhaps something new. Whichever form it ends up taking, something is brewing. Stay tuned.


Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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