Latino Catholics are leaving the Church at an unprecedented rate. What can we do about it?
Charlie Echeverry, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, recently had an eye-opening conversation with an altar server at his parish. It changed the way he understood the future of the Latino community in the Catholic Church.
Echeverry and a few altar servers were in the sacristy preparing for Mass. At Echeverry’s parish, the altar servers are all Hispanic high schoolers.
“100% of these kids are high school age kids, and they’re all Latino. All of them. For either the English or the Spanish-language Mass,” he said.
That day, as they prepared for a Spanish-language Mass, Echeverry had the idea to invite one of the altar servers to come to the English Mass sometime.
“My initial thought was actually a little bit selfish,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t have that many people there. ‘Come to that Mass, bring your family.’ We could use some youth, we could use some numbers in that Mass.”
“His answer changed my entire perspective,” Echeverry said, “and clearly delineated for me this idea of spiritual and liturgical orphancy in a way that I don’t think anything else could have.”
The young man replied to the invitation, “Nah, Deacon. I don’t see myself at that Mass. That’s the white people’s Mass.”
Echeverry admits that he was utterly floored. He realized that his parish, like so many in the U.S., operated like two separate communities with very little integration between them. And this separation leads to major problems down the road.
“This young man was not making a statement about race on any level,” he said. “What he was saying was ‘That liturgy and that community does not relate to who I am. It’s not who I am.’”
This widespread issue in the modern-day Church, and how to respond to it, is addressed seriously and thoughtfully in Echeverry’s OSV Talk called “Liturgical Orphans.”
The video is one in a series of OSV Talks, which shine a light on creative means of evangelization, springing from the wisdom and deep prayer that energize these approaches. The talks, which are similar to TED Talks but with a Catholic focus, are free and available for anyone to watch at OSVTalks.com.
Echeverry said that his conversation with the altar server forced him to confront this concerning reality: Young Latinos often feel like “liturgical orphans” in the Church. They don’t really fit in with either the Spanish-language parish community, as many of them don’t speak Spanish, or with the English-language community, as it’s culturally unfamiliar.
The result is that many of them stop going to Mass as adults. Faced with the choice between these two communities, far too many choose neither.
Unfortunately, statistics very much support Echeverry’s personal observations. While 42% of Catholics in the U.S. are Latino at this time, and 63% of Catholics under 18 are Latino, this demographic is also “leading the exodus” from the Church, Echeverry said. He described it as a “mass exodus” because those leaving are still searching for the truth.
The sad reality is that current cultural practices, such as a lack of integration between the English-language and Spanish-language communities at many parishes, often contribute to young Latinos leaving the Church.
Because of this situation, Echeverry refers to the Latino Catholic community in the U.S. as a “powder keg.” The only thing left to be determined, he says, is “whether or not, when this powder keg explodes, it’ll light the way and break through a stubborn culture to allow us to pass on the faith to the next generation, or it’ll blow up in our faces.”
Fortunately, Echeverry is not just diagnosing a problem. He’s also offering practical and creative solutions.
Echeverry has an abundance of wisdom and personal experience to share, and not only as a Latino Catholic deacon. He has had a long career in media leadership with executive positions at AOL, The Walt Disney Company and Univision, and has helped fund, launch, operate and successfully exit a number of start-ups in the Tech/Media industry. He’s the founder of Black//Brown, an LA-based strategic advisory, and is involved with a number of nonprofits, as president of Sofesa.org, vice chairman of Catholic Answers, and on the boards of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, The Vida Initiative, Tepeyac Institute, Juan Diego Network and Sent Ventures. He also co-hosts two podcasts: The Diversity Remix, provocative conversations at the intersection of business, politics & culture; and Latino Leaders & Faith, a guest-driven show which highlights people living their Christian vocation in, and through, their positions of leadership. He is also a husband and father of five.
Echeverry shares his innovative strategies and solutions in his OSV Talk. All Catholics need to embrace our “missionary mandate,” he says, as explained in the Catechism:
The missionary mandate: “Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” (849)
Along these lines, an important strategy is a mission both to and by the Latino community. “We are the spiritual heirs of St. Juan Diego,” he said, who “led a spiritual revolution that Christianized an entire pagan continent.” Today’s Latino Catholics have a “tremendous opportunity” to imitate his example.
“As the Latino population goes in the US, so goes the Catholic Church,” Echeverry said in an interview with Aleteia. “The opportunities and need to activate and detonate this massively important cohort for the good of the Church cannot be understated.”
He hopes that all Catholics can embrace the missionary mandate. “No matter who you are, or what your personal background, you have a role to play in the conversation about Latino Catholics for the continued evangelization, conversion and perfection of the Church in the United States,” he said.