VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Aware of the sign of the times, the Catholic Church is reaching out and assigning greater responsibility to the growing Latino Catholic population, said a group of U.S. Catholic Latino leaders.

The March 13 election by the College of Cardinals of a pope from Latin America made that task even more evident, three top leaders of the Los Angeles-based Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) told Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis’ election “is a sign of the importance of Latinos and the people of ‘the continent of hope’ as the popes have called the American continent,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

Having a pope from Buenos Aires, Argentina, also “really shows the maturity of the Catholic faith in the American continent,” he said.

A Latino pope “will bring our community together; a lot of our Hispanic communities truly are going to identify more with the church and feel more connected,” said Diana Vela, president and CEO of CALL.

The key will be for the Latino communities to capitalize on “this gift of a Latino pope,” their growing population, and their own leadership skills, spirituality and culture in ways that can benefit all of society as well as the universal church, said Tommy Espinoza, chairman of the board of CALL.

Espinoza, Vela and Archbishop Gomez, who is the organization’s co-founder and episcopal moderator, were part of an April 7-12 pilgrimage to Rome that included about two dozen representatives from six of the group’s 10 U.S. chapters. The group has gone on pilgrimage to Rome every three years starting with its founding in 2007.

This year’s pilgrimage was made even more special, Vela said, because it came in the wake of the election of the first pope from Latin America and because the group was staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the same Vatican guesthouse where the pope has been living. The group met the pope a number of times in the common dining area, and Archbishop Gomez celebrated Mass with the pope in the residence’s chapel.

The three CALL leaders all agreed that the large and growing presence of Catholic Latinos, especially in the United States, means they are also called to greater responsibility in knowing, living and sharing the faith and being an active part of the church.

“Sometimes there is a tendency to just do the ordinary things, like go to Mass and so on,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“But I think it is important for all Latinos to feel they are an essential and important part of the church in the United States,” he said, which is why he, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead of Phoenix, and a number of Latino leaders in San Antonio and elsewhere decided to form CALL.

Businesses and politicians have recognized that the Latino community is critical for their own continued viability and success, Espinoza said.

“Everybody wants a piece of the Hispanic population because they see how much it’s growing. They want its purchasing power, its vote, its business,” Vela said.

But, she said, “it’s been beautiful to see” how the church has already seen this shift and has been “reaching out to us.”

The group’s aim is to network Latino business leaders and professionals, help them grow in their faith and use their resources and influence to bring Gospel values to the larger community, Espinoza said.

The group met with representatives and heads of several Vatican offices to learn more about what the different Vatican offices do, Vela said. The talks also let the Vatican see how the face of the church in the United States is rapidly changing and how the Latino community can be of service to the universal church.

The first to ask the group to contribute was Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He encouraged the group a few years ago to show how Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” could be lived out by today’s professionals.

The result was CALL’s 28-page reflection, “Caritas in Veritate — Charity in Truth: Our Response in Faith,” which is meant to help all women and men of faith think about what they can do differently in their professional, economic and public duties to live and promote Gospel values.

Vela said this year the Vatican is challenging them yet again.

She said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, “wants us to help get 1 million people” to attend the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The council also wants their input on evangelizing and catechizing first-, second- and third-generation Latinos, since each learns about the faith in different ways, not just because of varying language proficiency levels, but also because some are more social media savvy, she said.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, led by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, wants “a cultural revolution,” Vela said, meaning it wants to help build in Catholics “a sense of community” and help them ground their primary identity in their faith, “not our work or family, but what we believe in.”

The council also wants the group involved in the new evangelization of the Americas as the council studies “how Latinos gather, how they celebrate the liturgy,” she said.

Archbishop Gomez said he hoped Catholic Latinos will grow in their faith and take on the responsibility “of carrying on the truths of the Gospel and living and sharing the Gospel with the people around us.”

“The present and future of the church is in the American continent,” he said, and “we also need to feel that responsibility of being apostles of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”


Contributing to this story was Francis X. Rocca in Rome.