Somos el cuerpo de Cristo

By Meinrad Scherer-Emunds| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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U.S. Catholic has helped Latinos claim their rightful place in the church. Part of a series on U.S. Catholic's 75th anniversary.

There's been a "three-stage Hispanic Awakening," Father Virgilio Elizondo told U.S. Catholic magazine in an October 1981 interview. In the first stage, this country's leading Latino theologian explained, Hispanics were just not accepted. They "were kept out, and they were told that even though they may have been in the present-day United States long before the U.S. immigrated to them, they don't belong here."

In the second stage, Elizondo said, "our people wanted . . . to forget Spanish, change their names, change their religion. Even though some people pretty well succeeded in Americanization, they were still not fully accepted. No matter how well they made it, they were still considered ‘the other,' and that was the beginning of the third stage.

"Now we realize the images of U.S. pluralism: E pluribus unum. We know that we can be fully American without losing our heritage, our religion, or our language. We can continue using our language as the most concrete and deep way of expressing our being."

At the time of the interview, Elizondo was president of San Antonio's Mexican American Cultural Center, the country's premier training ground for Hispanic ministry, which he had founded nine years earlier. In 1983 he would publish his groundbreaking book Galilean Journey: The Mexican American Promise (Orbis), in which he developed his theology of mestizaje, using the Hispanic mingling of cultures, ethnicities, and races as its core theme.

Responding to the resentment that other American Catholics expressed then--and continue to express today--about Hispanics keeping their language and cultural identity, Elizondo explained, "Difference doesn't mean inequality. We want to participate in the way of life of the United States, but we do not want to have to be apologetic about who we are or why we do things the way that we do them."

The growing importance of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic Church has come as no big surprise to the publishers of this magazine, the Claretians. Since first arriving in San Antonio in 1902, the Claretian Missionaries have been dedicated to ministering to the spiritual and social needs of Hispanic Catholics in the United States.

In 1989 they combined their expertises in Hispanic ministry and in publishing to launch the Hispanic Ministry Resource Center. Under the leadership of its director, Carmen Aguinaco, this branch of Claretian Publications has been a pioneer in producing original, culturally appropriate bilingual publications and products for the Hispanic Catholic market.

Aguinaco, who today serves as the president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, also assists U.S. Catholic as a contributing editor, helping the magazine cover developments in Hispanic ministry as well as include Hispanic voices.

Though usually soft-spoken, Aguinaco minces no words when it comes to Hispanic concerns. In a July 2000 Sounding Board article she called non-Hispanic Catholics to repent of their attitude of "tolerance" toward their Hispanic brothers and sisters in faith: "Tolerance is almost like saying: ‘I don't understand your values or your culture. I don't like you, but, because I am a big person . . . I will tolerate you.' It is condescending and annoying to people on the receiving end. And by encouraging complacency . . . it breeds indifference. It leaves the dominant culture as dominant and only grudgingly makes room for the different."

When it comes to the church, Aguinaco argued, the concept of mere tolerance is preposterous. "Could a heart ever ‘tolerate' a leg? Or a finger tolerate a liver? . . . There are no aliens or guests in the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ was not originally Anglo-with Italians, Hispanics, Asians, or African Americans later transplanted to be rejected or accepted by the host organism. They belong there."