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Stewardship of Hispanics, Latinos
a matter of giving from the heart

By Armando Machado
April 2nd, 2008
The Catholic Northwest Progress (www.seattlearch.org/progress)

SEATTLE, Wash. (The Catholic Northwest Progress) - As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace. (1 Pt 4:10)

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett’s decision to call for a “Year of Discernment” on stewardship in the Archdiocese of Seattle (July 2007-June 2008), has helped highlight a challenge that many pastors have been aware of for years: Hispanic Catholics do not readily adapt to the traditional “collection plate” practices prevalent in U.S. parishes.

The distinct character of Hispanic/Latino stewardship is closely related to culture, language and tradition.

“They volunteer, they give their time and labor and sometimes material (such as for construction or remodeling projects),” said Isaac Govea, archdiocesan assistant director for Hispanic/Latino Services. The more established and economically well off Hispanic families in the U.S. are, he said, the more likely they are to register with their local parish and begin using donation envelopes.

“We have to tap into people’s cultural psyche….Sometimes the wording used is confusing, such as the word “treasure” in giving “time, talent and treasure,” Govea said.

Some Hispanics, he added, associate the word “treasure” with riches. They would say: “We have no treasures, our income is limited, and so we cannot give much.”

Govea also said in Mexico and other Latin American countries, it is not a general practice for the church to seek official registration for membership, and for use of donation envelopes. The only church registration that many Latinos are familiar with is registration to prepare for the sacraments, Govea noted.

Not just guests

Sister Amalia Camacho, C.S.J.P., says she believes the word stewardship can have a dual meaning “as to our responsibilities in taking care of God’s gifts of creation and giving back to God from those same gifts.”

Sister Camacho, pastoral assistant for Hispanic Ministry at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, said that “the reality of giving practices for our Latino community is that most of our families are in some ways trying to support their families either here or abroad, which is probably first and foremost on their minds.

“From my own personal experience and observation, I can say that when a person or family in our Latino community is in need, they come together and give from the heart,” she said. “I have witnessed this firsthand here at St. Louise, especially when a family member dies or is in financial need. The Latino community gives without reservations. I see this as true concern and love for one another.”

Sister Amalia said that Hispanic communities give freely when they have a vested interest in where the money is going, such as in the examples she mentioned. When the Hispanic community begins to feel and experience that they are not just guests, but are part of the church in which they worship, “then I can say that the word stewardship will take on a different meaning.”

Father Scott Connolly, pastor at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, said that at his church the increase in Latino families registering and using donation envelopes has been moderate. He noted that many in the Hispanic community prefer anonymous giving, adding, “I think they look upon it as their giving is between them and God, and that God knows what they give.”

Father Connolly said that a second reason is that “they’re not able to give a lot of money, and so they feel a little, I guess, guilty…..I think the third thing is that they’re not concerned about tax write-off.”

The pastor said that despite the lack of donation commitment cards from most Latino households, the parish is able to plan its budget based on weekly donation trends, and previous annual contribution totals.

No one-size model

Sister Amalia, who is Texas-born of Mexican descent, said that the archdiocesan Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, “From Guests to Hosts,” should continue to be used in all parishes where there is a Latino community presence. She said the plan can be a valuable tool to opening the doors to all who worship together “as one body and one spirit.”

Sister Amalia said that at St. Louise the increase in Hispanic families registering and using donation envelopes has been minimal, but the effort continues.

Govea said that the basic challenge of integrating a Hispanic spirit and practice into the structures of the archdiocese is to avoid a one-size-fits-all model. He said a cookie-cutter approach would be naïve, since it would not acknowledge and celebrate the richness of diversity.

The benefits of addressing a larger definition of stewardship allow room for improvement in the spirit and practice of “stewardship as a way of life,” and not just a program to raise money, Govea said. It creates the opportunity for people to truly be called and challenged to contribute as disciples of Christ in many and varied ways by getting involved in parish ministries and volunteer activities.

“The promotion of stewardship among Hispanics is a recent and mostly uncharted area in our local Church,” Govea said, “even though some of our parishes with Hispanic ministry have been grappling with the issue for some time.”

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo and the archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development recently took the initiative of gathering an archdiocesan committee that could address stewardship among Latinos. The goal is to learn about best practices already present in some parishes, and to learn more about how the Hispanic community relates to “stewardship as a way of life,” Govea said.

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