May 16, 2017
Expanded Latino Symposium answers ‘great need’
In participation and spirit, this year’s Latino Symposium at Providence College reflected the ever-growing presence of Hispanics in the Roman Catholic Church locally and nationally, organizers said.
The fourth annual program attracted more than 225 Latino Catholic leaders and laity from all over New England. The turnout overwhelmingly surpassed last year’s high of 80 participants.
One of the symposium’s primary coordinators, Rev. David T. Orique, O.P., director of Latin American Studies and assistant professor of history at PC, attributed the spike to several factors — including increased marketing and communication efforts to New England dioceses and Rhode Island parishes.
Organizers also expanded the program to a second day and, for the first time, invited a nationally known theologian, Dr. Timothy Matovina, to lead the programming both days, noted Father David. Matovina is a professor of theology and co-director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Latino Catholicism: Transformation in American’s Largest Church (Princeton, 2012), which won five book awards, including as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2012.
The first day’s programming was professional development-like in nature and targeted leaders of Latino parishes and ministries including priests, sisters, deacons, religious education program directors, and catechists. Nearly 100 people from eight dioceses in New England attended. The opening day was cosponsored by the Region 1 Association of Diocesan Directors of Hispanic Ministry as their annual Lenten Day of Reflection.
The second day was directed toward the laity and volunteers, such as Eucharistic ministers, and attracted more than 130 people. It began with Mass in Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas Priory. The remainder of the programming, which took place in the Ruane Center for the Humanities, featured two presentations by Matovina. He spoke on “Church History and Parishes” and “Apostolic Movements,” or actively living out one’s faith through programs such as Bible studies, Emmaus retreats, social action, and Curcillo.
In addition to Latin American Studies, the symposium was sponsored by the PC School of Continuing Education, the College’s Office of Institutional Diversity, the Diocese of Providence’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, and St. Patrick Church of Providence, whose pastor, Rev. James T. Ruggieri, is the symposium’s founder.
Father David said the decision to expand the symposium from a diocesan to a vastly larger regional audience was a response not only to increasing attendance and support in its first three years but to changing Church demographics. A huge “sea change” continues to take place in the Catholic Church among the Latino population, with the current national wave reflecting, among others, the Mexican, Dominican, Bolivian, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Colombian immigrants, as well as their U.S.-born children, he said.
The demographic shift is the biggest in American Catholicism since the immigration of the Irish and the Italians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he noted.
“The Latino needs are great. The Latino community has been historically underserved,” said Father David. “These are our Catholic brothers and sisters. This is where the Catholic Church is going.”
He emphasized that the makeup of Latino Catholics in the United States is extremely diverse, reflecting numerous cultures, languages, and customs. “The mix is so rich, so different,” he said.
Father David said Latinos currently account for approximately 40 percent of the Catholic population in the U.S., and that more than half of those communicants are under the age of 25. In Rhode Island, which has more than 140,000 Hispanics, there were approximately 88,000 Hispanic Catholics as of 2015. Approximately 8,500 attend weekend Masses regularly in the Diocese of Providence, according to Silvio Cuellar ’98SCE, director of Hispanic Ministry for the diocese.
Cuellar, another primary organizer of the symposium, was pleased with the response to the expanded symposium.
“We were able to double our numbers from the previous year for the Saturday event, and we had representation from many of the parishes with Hispanic communities,” he said. Cuellar added that the speaker, Matovina, presented in an informative and, at times, light-hearted, way that was well received both days.