Since the archdiocesan strategic plan was announced in October 2010, several Latino ministry initiatives have begun to take shape.
A vicar for Latino ministry has been appointed, a Latino Ministry Advisory Board is in place, and progress has been made toward establishing Latino centers and a parish leadership training program.
Latino ministry in the archdiocese fits under the designation of a chaplaincy, or a “non-parish community of the faithful entrusted to a parish priest,” as defined in the strategic plan.
Archbishop John Nienstedt has appointed Father Kevin Kenney vicar of Latino ministry.
The archbishop “wanted a vicar for Latino ministry who would help him [by being his] eyes and ears within the Latino community,” Father Kenney told The Catholic Spirit. “Basically, my role is to be the communication piece between the archbishop and the community and the community to the archbishop.”
Father Kenney, who speaks fluent Spanish and continues to serve as full-time pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, said he spends five to seven hours a week in his role as vicar, which includes overseeing a Latino Ministry Advisory Council that was formed about a year ago.
The 13-member council, which includes priests, a deacon and lay people with expertise in different areas of parish ministry, meets every other month to advise the vicar and the archbishop about needs within the Latino Catholic community. One of its first orders of business was to send a survey to parishes with significant Latino populations.
The council also is working with Father Kenney and Estela Villagrán Manancero of the archdiocesan Office of Parish Services to plan a Latino catechetical gathering and celebration in the fall, Villagrán Manancero said. Watch The Catholic Spirit for details when they are announced.
While the 23 parishes that currently offer Mass in Spanish will continue to do so, under the strategic plan “resources will be focused at certain parishes so that Spanish-speaking Catholics will have access to full sacramental ministry, as well as faith formation programming, and pastoral care at those locations,” according to the report, which is available on the archdiocesan website, http://www.archspm.org.
Archdiocesan leaders have begun the process to determine which parishes will be designated Latino centers. These centers will provide all the sacraments and sacramental preparations in Spanish, staff a Spanish-speaking priest full-time, and meet other needs specific to Latinos.
The archdiocese will provide some financial support to these centers, Father Kenney said. About 17 parishes have been identified as possibilities.
Another Latino ministry initiative mentioned in the strategic plan is leadership training. Although the June 2011 deadline in the plan has passed, plans to reopen an archdiocesan Latino leadership institute that had proven successful in recent years is in the works, Villagrán Manancero said.
The archdiocese has offered the two-year program, an adaptation of “Called by Name: Latino Leaders for Church and Society,” created by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry and implemented by the Mexican American Catholic College. The curriculum includes theology and Catholic social teaching as well as practical information for parish ministry. Many of the 120 people who graduated from the program now work in parishes.
In addition to these initiatives listed in the strategic plan, the archdiocese is working on a diaconate program, marriage preparation and catechist training, all in Spanish.
About 16,000 people attend Mass in Spanish in parishes throughout the archdiocese, said Villagrán Manancero, who specializes in Latino ministry. She added that the demand for sacraments among Latinos is almost overwhelming.
A shortage of Spanish-speaking clergy and archdiocesan personnel to serve the growing demographic further complicates the situation, she said.
The archdiocese’s goal is to integrate Latinos into the archdiocese rather than to assimilate them, which would force them to give up their cultural traditions.
“The idea is not a melting pot anymore,” said Villagrán Manancero. “It’s the idea of integration. Nobody has to give up their culture.”
Father Kenney acknowledged that language and cultural differences always will present a challenge to the U.S. church, but, he said, it’s essential that church leaders find a way to meet the spiritual needs of all its members without denying their identities.
“The faith that comes from the Latino culture is huge,” Father Kenney said, “their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, their devotion to the Mass, to the Eucharist, devotion to family. If we start watering all that down, then who do they become?”