On Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6:00 p.m. in the Cadigan Alumni Center on Brighton Campus, the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM) and The Church in the 21st Century Center (C21) will host a panel event titled “The Treasure of Hispanic Catholicism: Latino/Hispanic Ministry in American Catholicism.” The event will explore the changing demographic of the Catholic Church in America, and how Hispanic Catholicism will influence its future.
Created in 2008, the STM is the most recent BC graduate school to be built, and it is devoted to training students in various professional careers within the Catholic Church, such as ministry, teaching, and academia. The C21 Resources magazine published by C21 is a compilation of articles addressing the challenges facing the Catholic Church today, with each issue focusing on a particular theme. The current spring issue of C21 Resources, titled “The Treasure of Hispanic Catholicism,” served as the inspiration for the panel event of the same name.
Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of theology and religious education and director of graduate programs in Hispanic ministry at the STM, and Marilu Del Toro, a graduate student at the STM currently pursuing a master’s degree in theology and ministry, will be the main speakers at the panel. Thomas Groome, director of the C21 Center, will be the moderator.
“What do you do when you have a treasure?” Hosffman Ospino challenges. “You can hide it, you can ignore it, or you can embrace it.” A 15-year-old guitar standing in the corner of Ospino’s office is only one of the many treasures he has come to hold throughout his life. Born and raised in Colombia, Ospino immigrated to the U.S. 20 years ago to pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees at BC before permanently settling in Boston.
Ospino carved out his niche at the STM, working since he was a graduate student to help develop programs in Hispanic ministry. Eventually, he became a full-time professor devoted to teaching his students about the changing demographic of the Church. Because of his efforts, BC has become a platform for starting national conversations about Hispanic ministry. The presence of Hispanic faculty at the STM, the support of the University’s administration, the development of special programs for Hispanic ministry, and the funding of generous scholarships have made BC more attractive to Hispanic students.
“I want my students to be prepared with the awareness that they are going to go into a Church that is increasingly Hispanic and that they need to engage the Latino population,” Ospino said. “And not only the Latino population, but also the many other voices that are transforming the life of the Church. We have to embrace Asian, African, and Caribbean Catholicism and see how we can all accompany one another in the process of living our faith.”
Ospino plays on the word “treasure” when referring to the increasingly Hispanic Church, and when reflecting on the role Catholicism has played in his life. Rich Catholic traditions and Hispanic culture permeated every part of Ospino’s childhood, as he was involved in the Church as an altar server, choir singer, musician, Eucharistic minister, and social worker. It seemed natural, then, that Ospino would pursue a professional career in the Church.
“I think of myself as a natural leader,” he said. “Since I was a child, I loved the whole dynamic of teaching. I knew that I wanted to do something that would help and empower people, and the best context for me was the Church.”
Throughout his travels around the United States, Ospino saw first-hand how Hispanics were already transforming the Church, starting with their charismatic personality.
“Latinos are bringing new life to parishes everywhere,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy, youth, and a sense of fiesta,” he added with a smile. It was then that he realized that he had stumbled on buried treasure.
“The biggest treasure that we have with the Hispanic community is the youth,” Ospino said. Hispanic Catholics are a very young population, with more than 40 percent under the age of 25. Catholics comprise 43 percent of the population in the United States. Of that percentage, 60 percent are Hispanic. “We have got to treasure this—the present and the future of the Catholicism in the United States, as a matter of fact, is intimately linked to Hispanics,” he said. “And if we ignore it, it is at our own risk as the Church.”
Ospino was invited to be the editor for the spring issue of C21 Resources and worked with his colleagues over the last few months gathering data and organizing information for publication. Ospino was involved in two major research projects that contributed to the C21 Resources issue and panel event: a recent study of Catholic parishes with Hispanic ministry that reflected the growing influence of Hispanic Catholics in the Church, and a project conducted by the Roche Center for Catholic Education at BC that surveyed 1,500 Catholic schools with Hispanic enrollments that evaluated the accessibility of Catholic resources for Hispanic families.
“We cannot hide the reality that Latinos are playing, and will continue to play, a major role in the Catholic Church—and that’s the treasure,” Ospino concludes. “So what do we do? We invest in it. We embrace it. We make it our own.”
Marilu Del Toro:
“I think being Latina and being Catholic are intertwined—so much of our cultural identity is tied very closely with our faith,” Marilu Del Toro said. Growing up in Miami in a Cuban-American household, Del Toro’s fondest childhood memories always featured the Catholic Church, from regularly attending Mass to decorating the house with religious objects to gathering for a religious procession—however, it wasn’t until later in her life that she came to fully identify as a Catholic.
“I really came to terms with my faith as an adult, with owning it for myself and wanting to make it a more central part of my life,” Del Toro said. “It was really in my adult years that I became very interested in spirituality, and I basically started seeking out answers to try and really believe in the Catholic faith for myself and understand how it relates to my life.”
As she learned more about her faith, she began to think about studying theology and pursuing a career in faith formation ministry, which focuses on programs that teach others about the faith. Del Toro was drawn to the presence of women and other Hispanics in the STM faculty, as well as the Jesuits’ openness to other cultures and what knowledge they can offer, believing it to be a sign of the changing nature of the Church.
With her bicultural and bilingual background, Del Toro wants to work with the Hispanic community and use her identity as a woman in the Catholic Church to raise awareness about important issues facing the Church today. “I think I can serve as an important bridge-builder,” she said. “It’s important for the Church to see the Latino as someone who can be a leader.”
She also sees how the Church’s attitude toward women is changing, and thanks Pope Francis for his efforts in recognizing the contributions of women in maintaining the Church.
“The Church has always relied on women,” Del Toro said. “It’s just a matter of finally recognizing the important role they play in the Church, empowering them to do more, and finding a way to incorporate more women in leadership roles.”
The secular nature of American culture and its occasional hostility toward the Catholic Church have caused many American Catholics to leave the faith—however, Del Toro points out that the Hispanic community, the fastest-growing population in the U.S., is filling up churches and revitalizing them with its cultural contributions.
Del Toro believes that those living in a place of spiritual hunger are inevitably drawn to the holy, and she hopes that the panel will show others how passionate Hispanics are about the Catholic faith and how willing they are to be the leaders of a movement to develop a multicultural Church. She realizes that change won’t happen overnight—though society will have to slowly learn to accommodate many different cultures in the same place, this growth will be beneficial for society and the Church as a whole.
“The joy that Latinos bring, their sense of family and community, and our cultural traditions are expressed through the way we celebrate in church,” Del Toro said. “Family, culture, and the Church in Latin America are very closely tied together, and I think we’re bringing that to the U.S., to a Church that needs that revitalization.”