Today, the term ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ are often used interchangeably although each has a separate meaning. Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish and are descended from Spanish-speaking areas of the world. Latino refers to people who are from or descended from people of Latin America.
While guest speaking at the First Friday Club of Cleveland on June 6, Dr. Peter J. Casarella provided those gathered insight into terminology and other myths or misconceptions of Latino theology. In addition he addressed faith integration and the future of the Latino community within the Catholic Church.
Welcoming Dr. Casarella to the podium was Lynette Saenz from the Secretariat for Parish Life and Development of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Saenz shared many accolades and written works by Dr. Casarella as well as highlights of his career that include studying the spiritual, cultural and political dimensions of Latino Catholicism and Latino Theology.
He opened the lecture by breaking down the reality of minority cultures across the United States and within the Catholic Church. With data from U.S. Census, USCCB Office of Cultural Diversity and educational institutions, Dr. Casarella outlined that while society may continue to stigmatize the Latino community as a small section of Catholics, the reality is there is a demographic shift.
In addition, the future growth of the Catholic Church within the United States relies on millennials of which forty-two percent identify as Latino. In a survey done by the USCCB of those newly ordained to the priesthood or other religious life, thirty-four percent identified as U.S. Hispanic Catholic.
What once was coined the melting pot – a blending of cultural identities that draws Spanish, Native American, Afro-Caribbean and Euro American roots as one – is not the connection or identity Latinos take on in today’s society explained Casarella.
“While millennials hold steadfast to their historical roots,” he said, “they relate to a cultural overlap. While a Latino may be from Mexico and lives in the United States, it does not need to be a problem that must be blended or solved. It should be seen as a blessing.”
Next, Dr. Casarella shared how Latinos encounter Christ publically and share popular devotions outwardly. This is similar to murals or other commonplace expressions of spirituality easily seen along the streets in Latin America.
“Doing this is a part of being connected as a larger network. It is the same visual as those who hang national flags or wear shirts of pride,” said Dr. Casarella.
He concluded by sharing thoughts of Pope Francis in Rejoice and Be Glad! (#131) and encouragement by saying “by contributing our gifts, we not only find our place but we help renew society from within.”
Dr. Casarella received his Ph.D. in 1992 from the department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He has served as the President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians in the United States and as President of the Academy of Catholic Theologians. In 2013, he became associate professor at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Casarella is currently working on a book titled: The God of the People. The book focuses on the doctrine of God from a Latino/a perspective. He resides in South Bend, Indiana with his wife and five children.