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For Priests, a Crash Course in Spanish and Culture

Interview With Father Alex Yeung of Sacerdos Pastoral Center

NEW YORK, JULY 18, 2005 (Zenit) - The Hispanic community forms close to 40% of the Catholic population in the United States. Yet, there is only one Hispanic priest for every 9,925 Hispanic Catholics.

These statistics reveal an opportunity for English-speaking clergy to reach out to Hispanic Catholics -- if only they knew Spanish.

That's where Curso de Hispanidad steps in: an intensive Spanish language and culture course held in Mexico for North American priests and seminarians. This summer it runs July 19-Aug. 19.

Father Alex Yeung, director of the Sacerdos Pastoral Center, shared with us how the program immerses participants in Hispanic culture and prepares them to minister to the growing Hispanic population back home.

Q: What exactly is the Curso de Hispanidad?

Father Yeung: The Curso de Hispanidad in Mexico is a five-week intensive Spanish language and culture course for North American priests and seminarians. It is sponsored by Sacerdos in conjunction with the Department of Humanities and the Center for Language Studies of Mexico's Anahuac University.

The language module has two tracks: one for priests and seminarians with little or no knowledge of Spanish; the other for those with some previous experience.

The learning methodology is varied, with classes, individual or small-group coaching, conversation, tapes, films and visiting with families.

Both tracks emphasize pastoral Spanish usage, how to engage in simple conversations in ordinary pastoral settings, and how to celebrate the sacraments and sacramentals in Spanish.

The cultural module includes complementary classes in Latin American culture and religiosity, and visits to significant spiritual, cultural and archaeological sites in and around Mexico City.

Participants grow in their understanding of the culture from the inside, and in their ability to relate to the cultural features that their Hispanic parishioners bring with them. Hispanics have a great cultural and religious richness that, if effectively tapped and channeled, can be a source of renewal for the local churches in North America.

In the pastoral ministry module, participants are guided in putting into practice the pastoral Spanish they are learning. Participants are welcomed by the local communities and, according to the ability and interest of each, they can administer the sacraments and preach homilies in the nearby villages and towns.

Q: Why do you see a need for a course like this?

Father Yeung: One of the biggest needs among North American parishes is effective outreach to the Hispanic community, which forms close to 40% of the Catholic population, according to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops' document "Encuentro and Mission."

This document reports that there is one Hispanic priest for 9,925 Hispanic Catholics in the United States, in contrast to the one Catholic priest for every 1,230 Catholics in the general Catholic population.

Without adequate pastoral care, migrant workers and young Hispanic families find themselves without the support of a faith community they are accustomed to in their countries of origin. The result can be a dramatic loss of faith, moral aberrations, substance abuse and family breakdown.

Besides, a significant number of North American Hispanics are enticed to join other Christian denominations every year. Fundamentalist groups and sects are making a big effort to welcome Hispanics and cater to their spiritual and material needs. There is an urgent need to increase the number of Catholic parishes that are able to provide for the sacramental, catechetical, spiritual and social needs of the Hispanic community.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that native U.S. clergy face with the Hispanic members of their parishes?

Father Yeung: I think the question might be rephrased as: How can North American parishes effectively welcome and embrace the richness Hispanic Catholics have to offer?

Surely there are aspects of "need" that require skill in addressing them: the emotional and moral situation caused by Hispanic migrant workers being away from their families; the undiscerning acceptance of materialistic and hedonistic values by first-generation Hispanics; some reticence in learning and valuing the English language and positive American cultural values, etc.

But I think that Hispanic members of the parish are much more of an asset than a "needy" community. Their religiosity, sense of God and family, hard work, joy, optimism, and love for the Church and the Pope can do so much to help strengthen parish communities in North America.

If the demographic percentages are correct, we need to think ...

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