Latino outreach in Catholic schools

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 16, 2016

What factors challenge, trump the church's efforts?

Last week, a report released by Boston College showed that U.S. Catholic schools are falling short in serving the growing Latino Catholic population.

According to Catholic News Service, the Boston College report found that there are 12.4 million Hispanic school-age children in the United States and about 8 million of them are Catholic. The report said that only 2.3 percent of these Hispanic students — 296,203 — are enrolled in Catholic schools.

The report, “Catholic Schools in an Increasingly Hispanic Church,” also found that while Catholic school enrollment is shrinking, the number of Hispanic school age children is growing.

“The (church’s) response to the growing Hispanic presence in the church in the United States, particularly Hispanic children and youth, must be … a concerted, collaborative effort among all its units — no exception,” the report states. “If we fail to do this, the entire church body suffers.”

The church has another challenge as it reaches out to Hispanic students. This challenge has the potential to be much more divisive and harmful, thanks to the flames of racism fanned by the presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Diocese of Gary, Ind., found itself condemning Trump-inspired racial epithets used by students at one Catholic high school and directed at students at another Catholic high school.

During a boys’ basketball game Feb. 26 in Merrillville between hometown Andrean High School and Bishop Noll Institute of Hammond, the heated rivalry got out of hand. Andrean students displayed signs and images of Donald Trump and chanted phrases such as “Trump,” “Speak English,” and “Build a wall.” The latter chant referred to Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration. The pledge has been criticized by many, including Pope Francis, as being unChristian.

Andrean High School has a predominantly Caucasian enrollment and Bishop Noll Institute, an all-boys high school, is mostly Hispanic.

The incident was captured on smartphones by other fans, shared on social media and picked up by national news outlets. It left the bishop of Gary, Bishop Donald Hying, a Milwaukee native, disgusted. Bishop Hying was in attendance at the game, but did not witness the signs or chants, according to a Milwaukee Catholic Herald report. He issued a strongly-worded statement on Feb. 29.

“Any actions or words that can be perceived as racist or derogatory to others are antithetical to the Christian faith and will not be tolerated in any of our institutions,” wrote Bishop Hying. “It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening at a gathering of our Catholic high schools. This is not what we teach our students.”

Bishop Hying also said that Jesus’ message “was and is one of inclusion and respect for all people” and incidents contrary to this message are “not to be tolerated, even as a childish prank.”

But how do churches and schools control these pranks when we see a presidential candidate using racially insensitive words? It’s gotten to the point where children use his name to ridicule minorities.

“The word Trump is now becoming a form of hate,” Joe Enriquez Henry, national vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ Midwest Region (LULAC), told CNN. Henry made his comments after a similar incident Feb. 22 between two high schools in Iowa. LULAC was established by Hispanic veterans of World War I who sought to end discrimination against Hispanic Americans.

Debbie Bosak, communications director for the Diocese of Gary, has dealt with the aftermath of the Indiana incident. “I’ve received many comments from Hispanic families,” she told CNN. “Sadly, this is what happens when we let our political system become what it’s become. It’s trickling down to our children.”

If we think poor enrollment strategies highlighted by the Boston College report will cause the most damage to our Catholic schools, think again.

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