Ethno-Catholicism and the Mexican American Community (Part 3 of 3)

Ethno-Catholicism and the Mexican American Community (Part 3 of 3) July 24, 2008

Part 1: Memory and Identity of the Mexican American Community

Part 2: A New Consciousness: Attitudinal Shifts in the Catholic Church in Houston

The Need for Constant Renewal in Church Ministry

Although the Church in the United States has gained significant ground in ministering and attending to the needs of the Mexican community, as well as to the Hispanic community as a whole, there are still lingering challenges and difficulties force us to recognize that there is need for improvement and constant renewal in pastoral strategies within the Church. The particular example of how the evolution of Church ministry to the Mexican and Mexican American communities took place represents only a microcosm within a larger scope. Fast-changing times and a shortening of distances between cultures that used to stand worlds apart have deepened our global interdependence—and commitment—to one another and, hence, the need for the Church to address these changes accordingly in how she ministers to the faithful.

Ideas evolve and are communicated faster than structures in any given context, the latter of which always take longer to change. In the midst of the contemporary shifts in ideas and ideologies, the first and most crucial step for the Church is to realize that the expression of faith is a sign of how a particular community experiences God. That particular experience is embodied in words and certain practices that are particular to a certain community. Since communities are conditioned by their historical and socio-economic context, their culture is not universal. Thus, the way in which a certain community experiences God and expresses its faith is not universal either and will differ from one community to another. Language, likewise, is limited by the context in which it is conceived and used, and so is subject to change. A recognition of this takes place in the documents of the Second Vatican Council where the council fathers admit that God himself “in his self-revelation to his people…spoke according to the culture proper to each age.” [1]Uniformity in practice was no longer understood as synonymous with unity within the universal Church. An adaptation in language to make doctrine understandable to different cultures was no longer seen as a threat to the truth contained in the faith that the Church has professed for centuries. Despite the difficulties the Church is currently facing in properly implementing the mandates of the council, the significance of this major step should not be underestimated, for it was a definitive move away from the status quo and rigidity that had characterized the Church for four centuries preceding the council and toward other cultures and the world as a whole.

Given the dynamic nature of our society today, there needs to be a continuous renewal within the Church for it to effectively serve the physical and spiritual needs of the faithful. In the universal Church and, especially, in the American Church, there needs to be an improvement in methods of ministry to divorced and homosexual individuals, for example. Given how the Church in the United States has recently become a predominantly middle-Class church, it is an enormous challenge for the American Church to improve its ministry to homeless individuals and undocumented migrants. It is important to note that there are many Catholic organizations and individual efforts within the Church in the United States and abroad that are already undertaking ministry with the groups referred to above. Since individual and isolated efforts preceded a more institutional and sustainable effort to improve ministry in the case of the Mexican and Mexican American community in Houston; similarly, we can hope the Church as a whole will eventually respond effectively to the needs of particular groups from within and without the Church. We know that this hope is not in vain, because we remember how ministry was expanded and diversified in the early Church to meet the arising needs of the community as Christianity grew in numbers. [2]The way faith is expressed and communicated can be adapted or changed depending on particular needs of a community. We need to acknowledge that this adaptation needs to take place for the sake of spreading the Gospel, but always remembering that we can do so without having to compromise the integrity of the Gospel message in the process.

[1]Gaudium et Spes, 58

[2] See Sanks 58-59.

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  • How much of the diversity was already established in the Americas long before Vatican II? Do you think was always there but only officially affirmed because of Vatican II? I find a lot of it is the case with Native Americans in the United States. They were, to be sure, being given conflicted responses by the Church: sone were engaging inculturation, others were trying to force them to become just like the white man. The story of Black Elk and his family is interesting and telling in regards to this.

  • Katerina

    You know what, that is a question that kept coming up in my mind as I read the book I mention throughout the essay. The author’s argument is that Mexican Catholicism was essentially pre-Tridentine in its practice, because the colonists came right before the reforms of the Council of Trent and the reforms themselves never really trickled down in Latin America. So the “rigidity” of the Catholic Church in America, which was very much Tridentine in its practice, resulted in a clash of religious practices once Latin American immigrants started coming in. That being said, I’m very interested as to his theory of how Catholicism was in the Americas and how strong it is… I have glanced a couple of book titles in Amazon that trace the history of Christianity in Latin America. One of them is by Justo Gonzalez. I think that would be a good way to start in order to appreciate the impact of Vatican II in the Latin American Church. Interesting stuff..!