Q&A with El Futuro keynote speaker Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College

Q: How has the growth in the Hispanic population over recent decades been felt within the U.S. Catholic Church?

Hispanics have been part of the social fabric and history of the United States since the very beginnings of this nation. In fact, centuries before the nation’s birth, the first expressions of Catholicism in the U.S. territory were Hispanic. What we have witnessed in the last half a century is an accentuation of the Hispanic presence due to major migration patterns and the growth of the Hispanic population. In about two decades, most Catholics in the country will have a Hispanic/Latino background. Hispanics are injecting new life into church structures and society. Hispanic Catholics, in general, have an organic and holistic understanding of the faith that permeates everything we do, and are a reminder that Catholicism is not something one does merely on Sundays, but a way of life.

Q: What are the needs and concerns of Latino Catholics, and how can campus ministries and Catholic colleges serve them better?

The concerns of Latino Catholics are complex and varied. There are Latino Catholics who wrestle daily with questions of poverty, racism, underrepresentation and marginalization. Others who may be doing well at a professional or financial level wrestle with a lack of opportunities to grow and be promoted. But in general Hispanics/Latinos struggle with poverty, low levels of educational attainment and prejudice. The first thing we need to do is make sure Hispanic young people can access and are sincerely welcomed in our Catholic colleges. That starts by partnering with Catholic parishes, dioceses, elementary schools and other organizations to support Hispanic children from a very early age. Also, many Hispanic young people feel that they do not belong or that they are treated as second-class citizens in the institutions where they attend. That must change and Catholic colleges and universities have the potential to lead the way.

Q: Many of today’s Hispanic college students are 2nd and 3rd generation. How do their needs differ from those of their parents or grandparents?

These young women and men grow up negotiating identities. They constantly struggle with the fact that they are U.S. citizens but often are treated as if they were not. They know that they are Hispanic, but they know that they are not so like their immigrant parents. Campus ministries and the Catholic college community needs to understand these realities, have conversations about this and integrate this discernment in all their programs and activities.

Q: What impact can these efforts have on relationships between the church and other minority groups in the faith?

Hispanics are already a majority in the regions of the country where Catholicism is growing by leaps and bounds. There are some dioceses where Asian Catholics are growing faster than any other group. We are at a point in history where we are a church of “minorities.” A healthy conversation as we move into the future of Catholicism is to speak of affirmation of who we are as a diverse body. This means that we must sincerely recognize everyone’s gifts and exercise solidarity in our shared struggles.

Q: How would you describe the role that Dominican University and other Hispanic-Serving Institutions are playing in this issue?

Let us say it loud and clearly: Dominican University is doing the right thing. Dominican University has made an intentional commitment not only to react to the changing culture and demographics in the Catholic Church in the United States, but also to anticipate the future and embrace it. This is radical. I am very aware of the struggles of many Catholic colleges and universities to “make ends meet” as traditional student populations change. What Dominican University is doing reminds me of the earlier days of Catholic higher education in the United States. No one knew whether a college would survive serving immigrants and poor students. Yet, many Catholic colleges in the earlier days knew that they had to do the right thing because that meant living the Catholic identity to its core. Some succeeded; others died in the process, yet they did so knowing that it was worthwhile. Today Hispanic-Serving Institutions lead with their prophetic example.