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Journeying Together

A Hispanic Catholic Pentecost

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One familiar question among those trying to get a better sense of the U.S. Hispanic Catholic experience is how many Roman Catholic Hispanics are charismatic. The point of contention usually is the definition of "charismatic." If being charismatic is about receiving charisms or gifts from the Holy Spirit by which we build the church and are witnesses of the Lord in history, then all baptized Hispanics practicing their faith are de facto charismatic.

Sociologists of religion speak of renewalists or Christians who have embraced a Pentecostal-like spirituality and are part of so-called charismatic groups. Speaking in tongues, healing services and highly expressive worship are common practices among these Christians. According to the Pew Research Center, a full quarter of Christians -- Catholic and Protestant -- throughout the world are renewalists. Renewalism is without a doubt the largest religious phenomenon within Christianity in our day.

In the United States, Pew estimates that about half of all Hispanic Catholics are charismatic. One can quibble with this estimate since most Hispanic Catholics are not regular churchgoers. Besides, the word "charismatic" can mean many things.

However, the point is clear: A large sector of the U.S. Hispanic Catholic population has embraced some form of charismatic or renewalist spirituality. They live and practice this spirituality in parishes, educational institutions, homes and many other contexts. In church circles, the term "charismatic" often evokes the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In 2014, drawing from a national study I conducted, I reported that about 50 percent of more than 4,300 parishes serving Hispanic Catholics have a Catholic Charismatic Renewal group.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is the most influential spiritual movement among Hispanic Catholics in our country. When present, it constitutes the largest group in a parish. It is demonstratively one of the spiritualities most successful in fostering vocations to leadership and service in the church throughout the U.S.

Which of the above definitions of "charismatic" fits best the experience of Hispanic Catholics in dioceses and parishes? All three. The energy, creativity and drive toward renewal that Hispanic Catholics are instilling in the U.S. Catholic experience are true gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One should always be fascinated about how the Holy Spirit works in our midst.

Last year (2017), the Catholic Charismatic Renewal celebrated 50 years since its beginnings. The movement was born in the United States when a group of students from Duquesne University and La Roche College gathered outside of Pittsburgh were praying and "received the gift of the Holy Spirit."

This particular experience of receiving the Spirit was similar to that of Pentecostal Christians and other non-Catholic renewalist groups, especially in minority communities. The emerging spirituality soon became widespread and crossed international borders. Latin America and the Caribbean proved to be fertile ground for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It is estimated that more than half of Catholics nurtured by this spirituality live in Latin America.

Among the almost 20 million immigrants from Latin America now living in the U.S. -- of whom close to 14 million are Catholic -- countless self-identify with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

One could see this as a "return home," figuratively speaking, since the movement has been active in the U.S. all these decades. During this time, it embraced the richness and character of the Latin American and Caribbean cultures. The movement also found a home among Catholics in Asia and Africa.

If you do not know much about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal among Hispanics, take the time to learn more about it. If you find it "perplexing" and "different," allow yourself to be surprised by the Holy Spirit. We are witnessing a Hispanic Catholic Pentecost.

Hosffman Ospino is assistant professor of theology and religious education at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry.

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