A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center revealed that the number of U.S. Catholics who are Hispanic increased by 5% since 2007. The same study revealed that only 17% of U.S. Catholic adults are under the age of 30. These stats point to a strong case for engaging with young Hispanic Catholics to encourage religious vocations to sustain the future of the Church.
However, the areas where Hispanic families often settle in the U.S. are often the areas with the fewest resources. Catholic Extension Society launched a program in 2014 to strengthen eleven of the underserved dioceses with Catholic Sisters directly from Latin America. The U.S./Latin American Sisters Exchange program places several Sisters in each of the selected dioceses to engage with Hispanic families and develop and empower lay leadership in their local parishes. The Latin American Sisters are provided fair compensation, housing, transportation, access to their local church leadership and educational opportunities. Shortly after they arrived in the U.S., the Latin American Sisters participated in nine weeks of intensive English language and inculturation training at the Mexican-American Catholic College in San Antonio, TX.
Vocations without Borders
To provide specific training for religious vocations, Catholic Extension partnered with the National Religious Vocations Conference to provide a one-day workshop titled, Vocaciones sin Fronteras en un Mundo Cambiante / Vocations without Borders in a Changing World. The 36 Sisters from Latin America were joined by 51 additional U.S. Sisters who are also engaged in Hispanic ministry. Presentations and small-group activities were led by Sr. Elsa E. Garcia, C.D.P., who currently serves as Pastoral Associate and Social Ministries Coordinator in Midland, TX, and Sr. Raquel Ortez, SSND, a vocation team member with 15 years of prior experience with formal education in Honduras. The networking among Sisters was also valuable in sharing tools and resources. One participant shared that the workshop helped her, “to be unified in promoting vocations, to be enthusiastic and hopeful, to broaden the horizon of the reality of USA, and to discover how to share the joy of religious life.”
SC Ministry Foundation provided funding support for the vocations workshop, and has partnered with Catholic Extension since 2012 to support other national efforts in Hispanic ministry as part of the Foundation’s focus on the inclusion and integration of immigrants within communities.
Inspiring the Next Generation
As the Latin American Sisters become more acclimated to American lifestyles, they are beginning to implement the training they have received. All 36 Sisters have completed an initial inventory of the needs and opportunities for their respective communities and created a strategic plan in coordination with their parish priest and diocese.
As a result, all of the eleven dioceses have hosted vocational events for youth including retreats and day-long workshops. Young adults and children who may not have even seen a nun before are now given the opportunity to build a relationship with a Catholic Sister. In the Diocese of Des Moines, a ten-year-old girl who attended a vocations event with her family approached Sister Blanca and expressed her interest in becoming a nun. Together they posed for a photo that demonstrated the joy of the moment.
The U.S./Latin American Sisters Exchange program is a powerful example of how the work of the Gospel reaches across borders, languages and cultures to build the kingdom of God.
To learn more:
You Tube video highlighting the U.S./Latin American Sisters Exchange
Photos courtesy of Catholic Extension.