~ by Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – With upward of 70 million Catholics in the United States, one might think the U.S. church would have its hands full tending to their pastoral needs. And, that may be so.
There are millions of others in this country for whom a fixed address is less of an expectation than an aspiration. They include refugees, migrants, people whose work demands that they travel, and victims of human trafficking. That doesn’t even count the 79 million international visitors to the United States in a typical year.
The U.S. Catholic Church, though, may be missing out on an opportunity to increase its ranks if dioceses and parishes don’t reach out to these groups. The Census Bureau’s General Social Survey estimates that of all foreign-born residents of the United States, 40% are Catholic, nearly double Catholicism’s reach in the entire U.S. populations.
The U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers commissioned the Center or Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington to learn about the scope of such outreach efforts. The result is a report titled, “The Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers: Worship Site Inventory and Demographic Study” which was issued in June.
One trend that was noted is that there is a real gap between what the diocese self-reports and what the research indicates.
Migrant and refugee groups often go unnoticed by local parishes and diocese. At least that is what the data may suggest,” said Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington, chair of the subcommittee. “There may not be a felt imperative to go out greet and meet. Many parishes may simply be waiting (for them) to show up and many may not be attitudinally prepared to reach out to new arrivals who are Catholic.”
He added, “What might be notable is where people are moving. Note the metropolitan areas where folks are moving. The diocesan surveys when compared with the census data may suggest a need for more intentional outreach for families moving from one part of the country to another.
“Often these folks may be more affluent families moving around due to their corporation, their profession or work,” Tyson said.
The CARA survey asked about resources and best practices.
The Diocese of Austin, Texas, replied with a best practice – the “Our Kids at Heart” initiative, a tuition support program with the objective to inspire hope and transform lives, and make stronger families and communities through Catholic education for Hispanic youth.
Asked to share one pastoral resource that could be emulated elsewhere, the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, replied that “through the Humanitarian Respite Center,” the diocese “is answering the call to care and restore human dignity to individuals upon their release from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention centers seeking refuge or asylum.”
Asked to share an educational resource: the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana, replied: “In nine parishes, Hispanic immigrant families have been integrated to their parishes through a program named Parent Leadership Formation. This program is offered in the setting of small communities of support that allows them to share their lives, their immigrants’ difficulties and parental challenges, and to enlighten them with the Gospel.”
Bishop Tyson, asked, “Are we missionary? Are we reaching only the people who pass through the doors of the church, or are we finding the folks that are already there.”
When Pope Francis speaks of a missionary option, he said, “that missionary option is to go out of ourself. If people don’t come into the church, we go out to them. …It really requires a shift in attitude and understanding” with the parish becoming a “mission center,” Tyson said.
“We’re distracted with whatever’s in front on our plate, but there’s some deeper mission questions that are going on. It’s a tough one. This was started before COVID. Nobody knew COVID was going to erupt and we finished this study during COVID. A lot of us are thinking about how we bring people back to church.”
Tyson, who earlier this year spent time with a priest and diocesan seminarians in migrant worker dorms in Yakima, said that “there’s some good things going on” in ministry outreach but “there’s a long journey ahead.” To read the complete article, please click here