By Jorge I. Dominguez-Lopez Catholic News Service     10/21/2015

NEW YORK (CNS) — The Hispanic Catholic presence in the United States predates the foundation of Jamestown, Virginia, by a century, a University of Notre Dame professor said at a discussion about Latino Catholicism at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture.

The New York center, a Catholic space to debate ideas and to celebrate the enriching interaction of faith and culture, held the discussion Oct. 15 as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Timothy Matovina, a Notre Dame professor of theology and co-director of the Indiana university’s Institute for Latino Studies, and Valerie Torres, adjunct faculty of religious education at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, were the main speakers.

The room, which can hold nearly 300 people, was filled with an audience that included several seminarians and young priests.

America magazine, a national Catholic publication run by the Jesuits, sponsored the discussion and Jesuit Father Matt Malone, president and editor-in-chief of America Media, welcomed the attendees. Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre invited everybody to pray the “Hail Mary” in Spanish.

Torres spoke of the Hispanic community in the United States, citing statistics and their main cultural and religious attributes.

Matovina offered a panoramic view of the history and the current state of Latino Catholicism in the United States. He emphasized three key aspects of Latino Catholicism.

After reminding the audience of Hispanic Catholics’ centuries-old presence in this country, he addressed the second historical wave of Hispanic Catholics in the United States: the inhabitants of the regions of Mexico that were annexed to the United States in the 19th century.

Next came the great migration wave that started halfway through the 20th century and continues until today, he said.

Matovina said that Hispanics are not only a “pastoral challenge” but also an enriching part of the Catholic Church. Not only are they the future of the U.S. church but also its present.

The great challenge today, as it has been with each immigration wave, is to guarantee that the new generations of U.S.-born Hispanics maintain the faith that their immigrant parents brought with them.

Dominguez-Lopez is the editor of Nuestra Voz, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.