On Sep, 25 2021
My personal testimony of faith as a young adult Latino in the Catholic Church
I don’t remember thinking that I was unique when I looked around my classrooms and lecture halls knowing I was the only Latino in the room. I never experienced discrimination at the University and when it came right down to it, I was just another student. What I didn’t realize though was that something in me didn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable joining anything, much less the Newman Center, just across the street from the University. No one was driving me away, and yet I wasn’t comfortable taking a leap.
I’ve come to understand as an older adult that what I was looking for was an invitation, a warm reception, and a sense of belonging. I didn’t know how to ask for that, and I’ve come to find out most young adults don’t operate that way. I’ve also come to learn quite a bit about Culture and the dynamic nature of Cultural influences on a person as they make their way from one Culture to another.
My family immigrated from Mexico when I was only 7 years old. Although I grew up in this country, all my family and community experiences were within a Latino neighborhood. Stepping on to a college campus was really another world for me, another culture.
There was a point in my Junior year when I stumbled upon some Catholic young men who befriended me and began to invite me to the Newman Center. They didn’t know it, but it was their first effort at Latino Outreach! Most of them had never met a Mexican. But their comradery and passion for God was all I needed to feel as though I had found a home. The friendship and faith they invited me into was life-changing! Some of these men are friends of mine to this day…almost 40 years later.
As a Newman Coach, who’s often asked how to help campus ministers develop Latino Outreach Strategies, I give many tips based on what I learned from my personal experience. Here are a few of the most important things to consider when reaching out to Latinos on your campus:
- If you are not naturally drawing Latinos to your ministry you may have to make some adjustments to the way you do outreach. Don't be afraid to try something new!
- Intentionality goes along way: Good hospitality, kindness, a welcoming spirit, and friendship are important for everyone, including Latinos.
- You don’t have to look like a Latino or be one to outreach to the community.
- Although there are cultural differences, Latinos, especially young adults, have a lot in common with other young adults – they’re going to like a lot of the things you like.
- It’s ok to encourage Latinos to do Latino type things at your Newman Center. Sometimes one or a few of them might want to organize events, a group or activities that are unique to their culture in the Catholic faith. For example: Set up and decorate an ofendra for Dia de los Muertos and invite students to bring photos to honor their loved ones.
- Host other fun events and activities that are popular in the Hispanic culture, like a salsa night, a Carne Asada evening (Taco Tuesdays are a great idea!) and/or a celebration to honor the Virgen of Guadalupe. Remember to invite students to help with these events and open them up to the entire student population on campus. Who doesn’t like Carne Asada Tacos??? 🌮🌮🌮
- Contact a Newman Coach for more ideas that work and for a good Carne Asada recipe!
On-Campus Case Example:
Over the past five years I’ve provided coaching services in many areas for the UPenn and Drexel Campus Ministry programs. When the priest and brothers assigned to these ministries came on campus six years ago, they found a ministry program barely lit and almost out of breath. They knew little about campus ministry at the time, but they did know how to be hospitable and charitable. Within months the students started showing up in greater numbers. A couple of years ago Fr. Remi noticed that there were more Latinos showing up on campus. He reached out to a few and began to form a relationship with them. A couple of months into their relationship he asked if they were interested in forming a Latino small group to meet on a weekly basis. They responded! Months later, they’ve had a lot of fun, some formation and more fun. It’s not a huge group but it’s worked to bring them together and form a common bond.
We interviewed Fr. Remi on his experience building Latino ministry and asked for some additional tips on why this worked so well. Here's what he shared:
- He became aware of a possibility when he noticed Latinos on campus
- Realized that it is ok to plan events specifically for Latinos (even if you aren't one)
- Made a point to create a warm, inviting and fun atmosphere at these events, and invited all students to come to them, regardless of their practice of the faith
- Started to pray intentionally for the Latino students on campus
- Began to introduce faith topics without shoving a bunch of information at them all at once (doesn't have to always be like "drinking from a firehose!")
This is just one example of how small, yet powerful changes can make a world of difference in Latino outreach. There are many more great examples to learn from and we are working on compiling them for you! Stay tuned to the blog and/or contact a Newman Coach for further discussion on all things Latino Ministry.