Catholic New World staff writer Michelle Martin talks with Jorge Rivera.
According to the 2000 census, more than a million Hispanics live in Cook and Lake counties, and since the majority of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic, they likely make up more than 40 percent of the people in the pews of the archdiocese, said Jorge Rivera, director of Hispanic Young Adult Ministry. Rivera has a big job, since so many Hispanics are young. More than 50 percent are under 26, he said. The office offers formation and education support to young Hispanic adults across the archdiocese, providing both resources for parish groups and a way for them to connect with one another.
The archdiocese will hold its second Encuentro Católico Juvenil Sept. 6 to celebrate the strides Hispanic young adult ministry has made since the first encuentro three years agoincluding the establishment of Riveras officeand work on ways to make young adults missionaries to their peers.
The Catholic New World: Tell me what Hispanic young adult ministry does and who its aimed at.
Jorge Rivera: We have a huge dilemma. Its the situation of the three generations of Hispanics, and the diversity of Latin Americans coming over here. We have the first generation of immigrants, which is mainly the people that Im working with now. Theyre the ones that kind of get closer to church right away. [We work with] a few second-generation young adults, but their relation with church depends on how strong the teaching was at home. Then the third generation, its like oh, thats a worry, those are the ones that challenge us the most.
The majority of teenagers here are obviously English-speaking. Some are with parents, either born here or theyve lived here quite some time.
TCNW: When people talk about jovenes, do they mean teenagers or adults?
JR: The terms are a huge issue. I just talked with some young adults who are facing that challenge with their pastor. Theyre young adults, and its really young adult ministry, but theyre being challenged to do youth ministry because of the term jovenes. The term jovenes, if you dont understand the Latin American concept, can be thought of as a teenage group, and thats really not it. Jovenes is really more of a mature crowd, really between the ages of 17 and 30 and single. Then youve got the adolescents, which is considered the youth ministry here, 13-16.
At the same time, seeing that we work with a lot of mainly first-generation young adults, the formation and the academic level is low. Out of the first generation, it is said that maybe 40 percent are undocumented. Of those who are undocumented, the majority have less than a high school diploma. That creates a challenge when you have these young adults who are the ones in front of these groups, and what kind of leadership develops.
TCNW: So this group doesnt really fit with the archdiocesan youth ministry or young adult ministry.
JR: Here, the situation with the Young Adult Ministry or the Youth Ministry Office was not really catering to the needs of that bloc of Hispanic youths or young adults. You have Young Adult Ministry, which has mostly middle class and upper class, and you have that concept of ages 20-40, so you could have a father and a son or daughter within the same Young Adult Ministry. Thats not our reality. Once you get married or youre over 35, youre in another stage of your life where young adult ministry doesnt belong to you. Thats where we seek for them to get on board with other ministries. Long term, thats one of my focuses: how do we develop couples ministry for young adults, who are too old to be with the youth and too young to be with the older adults?
TCNW: What are the needs that are unique this group of 18-30-year-olds?
JR: Usually when they come in, they offer more than what theyre seeking.
The majority of the young adults were seeing where there are crises or challenges within the parishes is that they arent being understood. Theyre being taken as if theyre coming in seeking for something to receive, instead of just seeking for space, identity.
TCNW: What do the young adults offer to their parishes and the archdiocese?
JR: Oh, wow. Their energy, their enthusiasm. Theyre very talented. Artistically, theyre very talented. They offer themselves with nothing in return. Its amazing. That same style of giving that they have, it connects with someone else. Its contagious. It even motivates me. Here I am, Im not that old, but you start increasing in age and that pace kind of slows down. Then I see their energyit gets in my brain.
Even their popular religion is rich. Its amazing how much they still bring from their roots. When you hear the word boring about church from youth, I dont see it from these young people. They seek to go to the Mass. If they dont go to the Mass on Sunday, its sinful to them. Its a conviction.
TCNW: How do you deal with the national and ethnic diversity within the Hispanic community?
JR: Im Puerto Rican myself, and its been a challenge to get young Puerto Rican jovenes involved. The majority of the community is Mexican, and its very visible within the youth ministry. There are little pockets of Salvadorans or Guatemalans, some Honduransand anything close to that seems to integrate rather well. But when you go to the Caribbean, with Puerto Ricans or Cubans or Dominicans, its different. As Puerto Ricans, we can come in and go out, and there is a long history of Puerto Ricans here, so most young adults are second- or third-generation and English-speaking. Most of these young adults from the Caribbean are either university students or young professionals.
TCNW: As you get into the second generation, is it harder to keep them connected?
JR: Yes. Thats one of our challenges. The first generation is still very well connected. The second generation is more assimilated, and we are trying to keep them connected to their roots.
For more information about the Encuentro, call (312) 738-1080.