Thousands of young families packed area Catholic churches praising God, honoring our Blessed Mother Mary and sharing the body of Christ in Communion. The occasion for this outpouring of devotion was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe held last weekend in churches throughout the Archdiocese, from Pottstown to Philadelphia and Avondale to Bensalem. But it could have been any Sunday in any of those Catholic parishes with a sizeable Latino population.
It’s a fact that 36 Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese celebrate Mass in Spanish. Newcomers from Mexico and Central America, where devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is intense, enrich those parishes and more broadly, the Church in the United States.
Like local parishes, the national congregation is changing rapidly. A recent panel discussion at Fordham University explored the ways that Latino immigration is changing the demographics of the Church and American society. Panelist Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life summed it up: “If you want to see where the country as a whole will be in 40 years, look at the Roman Catholic Church today.” He added that almost 50 percent of Catholics under age 40 are Latino, according to Catholic News Service.
In other words, there is no stopping the transformation of Church life in America, which is largely the result of immigration itself. From the Irish to the Germans to the Poles and eastern Europeans, to the Italians, to the Hispanics, to the Vietnamese and Koreans to the Africans, this American culture is always changing. It’s enriched by the Catholic members who move among it.
This country is only a part of the Americas, not apart from the distinct nations and cultures that we share in this hemisphere. Our Lady is also known as the Mother of the Americas. It’s a distinction that reminds every Catholic and every child of God that Mary’s loving protection extends beyond national borders and cultures. It transcends prejudice. It undergirds legal and political efforts to develop a just immigration system. It assures Catholics that they have nothing to fear from the transformation of the Church experience in the United States.
Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and all peoples proud of their ethnic root system must find in local Catholic communities fertile ground for the blessing that cultural spanersity offers. All of us must check our prejudices at the church door, one that is open and welcomes all to glorify God in our lives, as did Mary, our mother.