A Look at the "Nones" Across Cultures (Asian, Hispanic, African American and Anglo)

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A Look at the "Nones" Across Cultures (Asian, Hispanic, African American and Anglo)

Gabriela Karaszewski, M.S., M.A.

We, Catholics in the United States, find ourselves at a decisive moment in our shared history amidst profound demographic shifts as the numbers of Hispanics, Asians, Africans, Caribbean people, and many other communities of non-European origin are on the rise. According to statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in 2010, 54% of all the Catholics in the United States were Non-Hispanic White, 38% Hispanic/Latino, 3% were Black or African American, 4% Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native.[1] A more recent report from 2016 indicates that "more than 40% of all Catholics in the country are Hispanic and 60% of Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic. Of these, more than 90% were born in the United States."[2]

Today's urban and suburban parishes are becoming "shared" or multicultural parishes. They find themselves serving a combination of nationalities, language groups, cultures, and races, going well beyond the monolingual and monocultural approaches of decades ago.[3] Multicultural or "shared" parishes are faith communities in which worship and ministerial services are offered in more than one language, and intentionally serve more than one racial or cultural group. 33% of parishes in the U.S. celebrate Mass in a language other than English,[4] and yet the majority of their faith formation programs and evangelization efforts are often offered in one language. Hispanic youth, for instance, receive much less ministerial attention than other groups in the Church[5] and only 9% of Lay Ecclesial Ministers are Hispanic,[6] despite the fact that they are poised to become the majority of US Catholics in less than 30 years.[7]

Becoming interculturally competent... is an indispensable requirement for engaging in the Church's evangelizing mission to preach, teach, and witness to the Gospel.

Even though the number of Catholics from various ethnic groups are on the rise, "studies indicate that more people who were raised Catholic, often young people, are leaving the faith than ever before."[8] According to Pew Research, nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics and most of them are "nones", a term used for people with no religious affiliation. [9] This is not a surprise given that in 2014 the "percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated or 'nones' was 22.8 % of the US population."[10] Pew Research also reports that the generation with the highest religious unaffiliation is young millennials ages 18-24. In a recent study of former Catholics teens and young adults, 44% are non-Hispanic white, 36% are Hispanic, 12% are black or African American and 8 % are some other race or ethnicity or multiracial.[11]

There are a variety of reasons why many young people raised as Catholics no longer identify with the Church, but in light of demographic changes taking place in US and the rise of the "nones" across all ethnic groups, there is no question that there is an urgent need for catechists, Catholic school teachers, parish and diocesan catechetical leaders to respond. A mere acknowledgment of the existence of a variety of cultures is not enough. Becoming interculturally competent, that is having the capacity to communicate and work across cultural boundaries, is an indispensable requirement for engaging in the Church's evangelizing mission to preach, teach, and witness to the Gospel. To evangelize is to engage cultures and transform them in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[12]

In both Evangelii Gaudium 127-129 and the Preparatory Document of the Synod of the "Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment", Pope Francis highlights the need to first "listen" to the youth and second to "accompany" them in their journey. These concepts are key to our efforts of evangelization to millennials regardless of their cultures. We must to live a "theology of encounter." This encounter is not only with Christ, but an encounter with Christ in our fellow brothers and sisters regardless of their culture. It means to get to know each other and to see "their joys and sufferings" as my joys and sufferings. We might come from different cultures, like different music, and have very diverse lifestyles, but we all have one faith. This encounter with one another is a pivotal starting point for a gradual process in which we develop "deep and genuine" and long-lasting friendships that build up the one Body of Christ composed of many members.[13]

Before any programmatic course of action is taken, it is essential to promote a "spirituality of communion" that leads us to sincerely see our brother and sisters in faith as "those who are part of me" and recognize that their gifts are also "a gift for me."[14] True ecclesial integration/inclusion of different ethnic groups in our catechetical programs and Catholic school system is a gradual, multi-step process, which involves welcoming, belonging and ownership.[15] If as a Church we are welcoming to youth, they will have a sense of belonging, which in turn leads to their feeling ownership and cultivating healthier intercultural relationships. In this way, we can not only include culturally diverse youth in our ministries, but also integrate youth/young adults who are at the peripheries and prevent them from joining the ranks of "nones."

To better equip pastoral leaders and catechists of every background with the capacity to communicate and work across cultural boundaries, we can take a variety of approaches:   

  1. Become aware of our own cultural heritage. Where do I come from?

  2. Create shared pastoral initiatives around the "Theology of Encounter" and practice encounter in daily life.

  3. Become acquainted with the concept of Inculturation of the Gospel.

  4. Create opportunities for youth/young adults of every background to come together for meaningful experiences of prayer, worship, service, and formation.

  5. Advertise faith formation programs, youth ministry programs, young adult groups, and adult faith formation offerings in all the languages used within a parish or diocese (even if the program is only in one language) in order to make everyone feel welcome and meet their intergenerational needs (parents sometimes feel more comfortable speaking in a language different than their children).

  6. Identify and empower existing bilingual bicultural leaders as bridge-builders ("Gente Puente") in their parish communities. 61% of Hispanic young adult leaders speak at least as much Spanish as they do English.[16]

  7. Enable people of every language to participate in parish and diocesan cultural celebrations and feasts

  8. Make trainings such as the Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM) offered by USCCB widely accessible.

  9. Offer webinars and open discussions on the Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They May All Be One book developed by USCCB, as well as other resources on multicultural ministry, with particular attention to the Hispanic Catholic experience, mindful that 60% of Catholics younger than 18 are Hispanic.

  10. Become acquainted with the three-year process of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (2017-2019), a priority initiative of the USCCB. One of the aims of this Encuentro is to reflect on how Catholics can better reach out to, engage, and affirm Hispanic Catholic youth and young adults.

Armed with these practices and knowledge of the cultural landscape of our Church, we can work toward creating a "unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony."[17]  Truly encountering Christ in the children, youth, young adults and adults we accompany in our catechetical ministries is the first step towards making them feel welcome and preventing many more from leaving the Catholic Church to become religiously unaffiliated.

[1] Mark Gray, Mary Gautier, and Thomas Gaunt, SJ, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate "Statistics on Cultural Diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States", 2010.

[2] Hosffman Ospino, Ph.D., and Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, Ph.D., "Catholic Schools in an Increasingly Hispanic Church, A Summary Report of Findings from the National Survey of Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families" (2016). 5.

[3] Building Intercultural Competencies for Ministers. USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. 2014, xiii.

[4] "US Catholic Parishes Grow in Size and Diversity," Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate Report 16:3, Winter 2011.

[5] Ibid. 110-111.

[6] "Fact Sheet Hispanic Catholics in the US," Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate

[7] Ken Johnson-Mondragon, "Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry," in Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century. Edited by Hosfman Ospino (Miami, FL: Convivium, 2010), 104.

[8] "Going, Going, Gone. The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics." A Study by Saint Mary's Press of Minnesota, Inc. in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) September 2017, 4.

[9] "The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States". Pew Research Center. May 7, 2014.

[10] "America's Changing Religious Landscape". Pew Research Center. May 12, 2015

[11] "Going, Going, Gone. The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics." A Study by Saint Mary's Press of Minnesota, Inc. in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) September 2017, 4.

[12] Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), no. 20.

[13] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 43: AAS 93 (2001), 295.

[14] Ibid

[15] "Shared Parishes, So That they May All Be One" Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church USCCB. (2016) 77

[16] Carmen Cervantes and Ken Johnson-Mondragon "Perspectivas: Hispanic Ministry" (1995) 123

[17]Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 117.


Gabriela Karaszewski, M.S., M.A. is currently the Director of the Office of Young Adults & Campus Ministry at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Obtained a M.A. in Pastoral Studies from University of St. Thomas and Master of Science from University of Washington. Serves as member of the National Advisory Team for Young Adult Ministry for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB. Previously was the Director of Faith Formation for 10 years at a parish in Texas. Originally from Mexico.