By AIDA HERNANDEZ
CHARLESTON The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist served as host to a regional meeting of the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) on March 10, drawing 75 participants from North Carolina and Georgia as well as from across the Palmetto State. SEPI, established in Florida in 1978, is a pastoral team that works to support Hispanic ministry efforts. It covers a nine state area and its corresponding dioceses, 28 in total. The meeting in the Holy City was one of the five subregional meetings that take place each year in the Southeastern Province.
Among the Cathedral presenters, the pastoral team consisted of Father Mario Vizcaíno, director of SEPI; Sister Lupe Stump, director of Hispanic Ministries for the Dioceses of Charleston; and Lydia Menocal, Linda Sosa, Antonio Sowers, J. Jose Rodriguez and Nancy Valdivieso, SEPI members and program assistants.
In his introduction, Father Vizcaíno talked about the important challenge facing Latin Americans of this century and how they are becoming the predominant group among Catholics in the United States. He reminded the audience that Hispanic Catholics are people with a sacred history. “We have the knowledge that we are God’s people walking through history, carrying the message: ‘Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and forever.'”
Father Vizcaíno told listeners that in 2000 the pope spoke about the dramatic growth of the Hispanic population in the United States. Hispanics have experienced drastic growth in the last 10 years. While the rate of growth of the general population is only 8 percent, Hispanics, by contrast, grew 60 percent. The projection for the year 2050 shows Hispanic Catholics becoming 85 percent of the total number of Catholics in this country.
“This makes very clear the need for more people to get involved in the Hispanic pastoral and the urgency of preparing our youth for tomorrow’s leadership. We are going to have a larger influence over the issues of the Catholic Church,” Father Vizcaíno said. “Therefore, we need more vocations and a major share of responsibility by the Hispanic community. The church will become whatever we are: If we are materialistic, the church will be plagued with materialism; if we are ignorant, the church will be ignorant; if we are a community obsessed with consumerism, the Catholic Church will be a church of consumers.”
This growth of Hispanics in the United States is an indication that a community has been growing inside another community, not only from a demographic point of view, but also as a sociological reality.
Father Vizcaíno spoke next of five important tasks that Hispanics must consider and carry out.
1) We must preserve our cultural values and reject the anti-values that try to destroy us.
“We must develop a critical mentality or conscience to examine the culture in which we now live and understand which are its values and which its anti-values, assuming its values and rejecting its anti-values which corrupt our spirits,” said the priest from Florida.
2) We must provide the best education possible to our children.
“Hispanics parents must send their children to college; a high school education is not sufficient. Parents must make all kinds of sacrifices in order to educate their children carefully. This is of critical importance; otherwise, when faced with a position of responsibility, we will not have anything to contribute if we are a community of ignorant people,” Father Vizcaíno said.
3) We must accept our financial responsibility in the church.
“We must stop and think about the expenses the church incurs in, such as mortgage payments, insurance, electricity, water, etc. It is important that we change this mentality and accept our obligation to pay tithes for the support of our Catholic Church, the same way that Anglo parishioners pay,” stressed the priest. “If we can spend large amounts of money in superfluous things, it is reasonable to contribute one hour’s worth of our weekly salary to support our church.”
4) Seek to enhance the growth of religious vocations.
“We have very few priests in the Hispanic community, and it is necessary to promote religious vocations. We must all inspire love to God within our community and the desire to serve him. ‘Priests do not grow on trees,'” the cleric said. “It is important to contribute to our youngsters’ vision to dedicate their lives to the service of God.”
5) Multiculturalism in the church.
“When we look at the church today, we do not see only one race. Therefore, we must promise ourselves to have an open mind towards everybody around us, notwithstanding his or her place of origin. We cannot demand from the Asians to stop being Asians, or from the Afro-Americans not to be Afro-Americans, nor can we demand from the Anglo to stop being Anglo.”
The priest from Florida, himself a native of Cuba, listed some statistics from the Sunshine State highlighting the diversity of the church, recounting that in Miami 78 percent of the Catholics are Hispanic, while in Los Angeles that percentage is 68 percent.
He continued, “We must propagate the concept of multiculturalism throughout our communities. We Catholics are all human beings with our unique cultural principles, a historic legacy, and a characteristic philosophy of life. We must attain a total certainty and understanding of our own identity and develop and apply a critic sense in our relationship with other cultures around us, in order to understand them, to embrace them, and to fuse with them without surrendering our own identity.”
In closing, Father Vizcaíno gave thanks to God and thanks to the profound vision of the leaders of the Catholic Church, saying, “The church of this millennium is a valley and a hill; it is a prairie, and it is mountain, where all the faithful walk happily to meet one another, all going in the direction of the Lord. Today, our church works more than ever for ecclesiastic unity; it continually preaches love among all members of the church, with its many different faces, and invites all of us to abandon pride, quarrels, fears, distrust, and personal ambitions and to consecrate our lives to love and serve God and our fellow men.”