LatinaLista — If it weren’t for Latinos, the nation’s Roman Catholic Church might not have a future. As we recently reported, Latinos now comprise the largest majority of the ethnic groups studying for religious vocations.
Thousands of Catholics listened Sunday as pastors read a letter by Archbishop John C. Favalora announcing plans for the rapid closure of 13 churches by Oct. 1
(Source: CARL JUSTE /Miami Herald)
This despite the fact that while Latinos comprise 40 percent of all US Catholics, there are less than 8 percent of the priests who are Latino. Compound those sad statistics with the fact that more and more Catholic Latinos are converting to Pentacostal and evangelical churches and one would think the Catholic Church would know that they have to do something drastic to hold on to the Latino members they have.
The Archdiocese of Miami found one drastic way but it’s not doing any favors for Latino members — they will be closing 13 churches, mostly in “poor and minority enclaves or serve elderly populations.”
The reasons for the closures have everything to do with the economy.
The targeted churches throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties are churches that historically have struggled financially and now find themselves being sacrificed so the Diocese can remain solvent.
In announcing to his congregation this past Sunday that the targeted churches would close by October 1, Bishop Favalora told parishioners, in a letter that was read to congregations, that the closures provided an opportunity for churches to now fully become integrated.
In other words, Latino or black-dominant congregations would now have to bus themselves over to the nearest parish that could accommodate them.
Yet, closing these neighborhood churches in these particular neighborhoods has ramifications beyond Sunday services. As someone whose family can trace our grandparents help in founding a church in a poor, Oklahoma City Latino neighborhood, I know very well what the closure would mean to the neighborhood.
It’s in these communities where people actually do linger after Mass, instead of rushing off with cell phones to their ears or glued to their iPhones, and talk to their friends and take time to drink and share fellowship.
According to a study by Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Latino Religion:
Church attendance is not only of spiritual but also of practical value to Latinos, since there is empirical evidence that it plays an important role in integrating many new residents into community life.
In recent years, increased attention to the role of religion in American public life has helped to highlight important connections between religious commitment and the development of social capital within communities. Numerous studies have demonstrated the economic, educational and social impact that churches particularly have in disadvantaged minority communities. Other research has shown that the mere presence of churches in blighted neighborhoods has a significant effect on improving life opportunities for church members and their neighbors, especially for young people.
For the Latino community in particular, churches play a fundamental social service and social networking role and thus are vital to a neighborhood’s ability to achieve an intended effect or community goal.
To deprive these areas whose residents’ lives revolve around the church beyond once a week is foolhardy and underscores the biggest complaint of the Catholic Church — they don’t do a very good job of caring for the poor amongst their own.
It goes without saying that the unaffected churches are those with wealthier congregations. It seems unbelievable that the Bishop in South Florida would target the poorest parishioners and expect them to find transportation to these other churches or forego their Sunday obligations — when in essence, some of the most devout parishioners are always found among these poorer churches.
It’s understandable that the bishop in this case, as in other cities across the country where this is happening or will occur, can’t justify keeping churches that are millions of dollars in debt afloat for only several hundred people.
Or can they?
Before the South Florida Diocese closes these churches, and other dioceses contemplate doing the same thing, they need to make a greater effort to see what can be done to keep the churches open and not force people, who can least afford it, to travel outside their neighborhoods.
Leaders of the Catholic Church need to think outside the box and do something more to help its parishioners or they shouldn’t be surprised when the day arrives when cities and towns will have only one or two churches — more than enough for the remaining Catholics.