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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 19, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 12 • Oakland, CA

Hispanic youth gather at Notre Dame
to explore their role in U.S. Church

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) -- A Mexican American nun told Hispanic youths not to lose their cultural identity as they become increasingly a part of the U.S. Church and society.

Mercy Sister Maria Elena Gonzales, speaking to the National Encuentro for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the University of Notre Dame, said Hispanics must maintain their cultural heritage if they are to achieve self-esteem and be leaders in a growing cross-cultural world.

Hispanics also must be ready to assume leadership roles in the U.S. Church as their growing numbers soon could make them the majority, she said.

Sister Gonzalez is president of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, which trains people for Hispanic and multicultural ministry.

The aim of Hispanic Church leadership should be to “build unity in our diversity,” she told the 2300 Encuentro participants. The June 8-11 gathering was the first national meeting of its kind.

The eleven representatives from the Diocese of Oakland spent two years in parish, diocesan and regional meetings to prepare for the encuentro. They worked from a list of topics provided by conference organizers, incorporating their own ideas and suggestions along the way.

In her address, Sister Gonzalez challenged the youth to “confront the discrimination that so many of you experience in your schools, neighborhoods, and yes -- even in your families.”

But racism is not overcome by abandoning your cultural heritage in an effort to be accepted, she said.

“So many of our Hispanic young people try to fit into the dominant culture by not only leaving their language and culture behind, but also by rejecting it, ridiculing it and even by changing their appearance,” she underscored.

She criticized young Hispanics “who try to lighten their skin, straighten their hair and even wear blue contacts.”

Such efforts lead “to a profound loss of identity and ultimately a loss of self,” she said.

Sister Gonzalez told the teens that as the daughter of immigrants she went through the same rejection syndrome in trying to adapt to the United States.

“I was even embarrassed of my own parents because they did not know any English, were poor and had little education,” she said.
But “culture is the soul of a people,” she said.

“To be truly effective ministers in today’s Church, you must become at least bilingual and more importantly become aware and sensitive of your own cultural identity and that of others,” she said.

Avoid the temptation “to build a parallel church” just for Hispanics, Sister Gonzalez said.

“It is easier to have two youth groups -- one for the English-speaking and the other for the Spanish-speaking. It is safer to be a leader in my own group,” she said. “But the call of the Gospel and our bishops is not the easy way.”

San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez urged the youth to become “a new generation of disciples.”

“We realize that many young people are losing faith. You know people who should be here who are perhaps in a bad situation with drugs. We must be apostles to the people around us,” the
archbishop said.

The keynote speeches by Church leaders served as inspirational springboards for the delegates, according to Teresita Lopez of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood. “I expected to fall asleep,” she laughed, ‘but their metaphors, their language, were so easy to understand. They told real stories that I could relate to.”

Yvette Espinosa, diocesan resource specialist for youth ministry, said the bishops’ encouragement to young adults “really opened their eyes and gave them new energy.” She said some past attempts to involve youth in faith formation and leadership haven’t been very successful, but “now these young people are really ready to take hold and make it happen.”

Lopez noted that evangelization among young people is contagious. A college sophomore, she said her desire to teach little children was renewed after hearing a talk by a young woman who had passed up a business career to work with youth. Lopez wants to organize a young adult group at her parish.

Lopez was so fired up by her contemporaries’ ideas and opinions, she intends to keep in touch with them. “They came from all over the nation. I met Hispanics from North Carolina who have the same heritage we (in California) grew up in.”

Participants made several suggestions for ways to increase Hispanic youth participation in the Church, including teaching teens and young adults effective ways to understand the Bible and pray with it, developing programs to help parents to be more effective guides to their children, increasing resources for Hispanic youth ministries, providing equal opportunities in education, and celebrating Hispanic traditions.

The bilingual event was organized by the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana and co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs, the USCCB Subcommittee on Youth and Young Adults, and the University of Notre Dame.

Hispanic youth show their exuberance June 11 following the closing liturgy at the first National Encuentro for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the University of Notre Dame.



East Bay attendees at the national Encuentro of Hispanic youth are, top row from left, Jessica Ochoa, St. Louis Bertrand, Oakland; Cristina Martinez, St. Elizabeth, Oakland; Edgar Lopez, St. Elizabeth; middle row, from left, Roxanna Alvarez, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Brentwood; Teresita Belen Alvarez Lopez, Immaculate Heart of Mary; Juan Jose Jauregui, All Saints, Hayward; Consta Martinez, St. Louis Bertrand; front row, Juan Carlos Amaya Torres, St. Peter Martyr, Pittsburg. Also attending were Yvette Espinoza, Jessy Lizarraga-Lira and Hector Medina of the diocesan staff.

Yvette Espinoza PHOTO

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