The growing number of young Hispanics in the United States is challenging the Catholic Church to shift its priority toward them or risk alienating them altogether.
According to a Boston College study focused on the behavior of Hispanic American Catholics, the future of Catholicism will be signiﬁcantly shaped by how the Catholic Church reaches out to second and third generation Hispanics, the majority of which are steering away from self-identifying as Catholics.
"There are very few efforts in the Catholic Church to reach out to Hispanic youth, that's a major red flag for our institution because more than 55 percent of Catholic youth in the U.S. are Hispanic. If the Church doesn't reach out to this generation, we're going to risk losing them," Hosffman Ospino, an assistant professor of theology and ministry at Boston College and lead author of the report told The Christian Post.
According to the survey, 59 percent of current priests that serve Hispanic communities are older than 55, which could explain the disconnect between the youth and the Church. However, there has been a recent influx of young Hispanic leaders emerging within the Church that could influence the involvement of the Catholic youth.
Currently, 93 percent of Latinos under 18 are U.S. born and Hispanics overall account for 40 percent of U.S. Catholics. Although 25 percent of all parishes in the country serve Hispanics, that number has not increased at the same rate as the larger Hispanic Catholic population.
Ospino notes that now is the time for the church to provide help in areas of education, language, geography and ministry to this demographic before they find that help elsewhere.
"A lot of dioceses and parishes are investing in catholic schools," said Ospino. "There is also an urgent need for the Church to invest in more Hispanic parishes, particularly for youth ministries. That's the big push we're making with this study."
While the Catholic Church lacks in effort to reach younger adults, more second and third generation Hispanics raised as Catholics are finding evangelical churches in the U.S. more to their liking.
According to a Gallup poll released last year, there is an increased number of Hispanic Catholics shifting to Protestantism.
In a previous interview with CP, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the reasons for the shift varies.
"Number one is a vertical issue, the issue of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Basically, you bypass the bureaucracy, you don't have to confess to a priest, you don't have to go through a bureaucratic sort of structure; you have a personal relationship with God through the Person of Jesus Christ – justification by faith," said Rodriguez.
He added, "…The Evangelical Church is culturally contextualized, which basically means you don't have to leave your culture at the door. The Evangelical Church accommodates, it customizes the worship and the way the message is delivered to enrich and to affirm your culture...In the Catholic Church, there's already the Latin, the collective culture that comes out of the Catholic Church out of Rome."
Despite those reasons, Ospino notes that young adults under 30 in the U.S. – Catholics and unbelievers alike – are being affected by secularization, which begins with indifference towards religion, he explains.
Ken Johnson-Mondragon, director of research and publications for Fe y Vida, an organization focused on fostering Latino Catholic youth, shared the same concern with CP.
"Secularization by the third generation is massive – much higher than among the white Catholic population – and the Catholic Church has not yet developed a systematic, comprehensive, and effective way to help Hispanic parents in the transmission of the faith to their children in this new cultural context of the United States. If that trend is not turned around in the current generation, the Catholic Church stands to lose as much as half of its Hispanic membership in the next 30 years."