By Seth Gonzales
Hispanic Catholics from across the world came together for a respect life conference that featured two cardinals, five bishops and thousands of lay Hispanics who heard about finding the courage to help change laws and hearts on issues dealing with human life and dignity.
The Third Hispanic Congress of the Americas for Respect Life and Evangelization at the Plano Center on Aug. 16-18 featured more than a dozen speakers who talked about ways to counter the abortion culture and social justice topics such as immigration reform, care for the poor, religious conscience and religious liberty. The conference was sponsored by the Diocese of Dallas, the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Catholic Pro-Life Committee.
In his homily during the opening Mass, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston said that on the issue of abortion there are encouraging signs starting to appear 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice legal.
“Abortion, like slavery, is not simply a religious subject, but a question of human rights,” O’Malley said. “The most interesting thing is that while our own country has become more secularized, the opposition to abortion is increasing among the youth.
“It is an indication,” he said, “that the youth understand that abortion is a question of human rights. Unfortunately, many Americans see it as a necessary evil. We have to demonstrate that abortion is not a necessary evil. It is just an evil.”
During his introductory remarks to the congress, Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell implored participants to be active and seek to change hearts.
“As you all know, we are in the Year of Faith and in the era of the New Evangelization,” he said. “When you speak of the New Evangelization and the respect for human life, we believe God is asking us to not only change a few laws in our country, but to change the culture and to change the way of thinking in our society.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion.” In 2010, 25 percent of abortions were obtained by Hispanic women.
“Life is the greatest social justice issue,” said Aurora Tinajero, principal organizer of the congress and director of Spanish Ministry for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee. “When life is threatened, it affects the other social justice issues.”
Abortion, immigration, and poverty have long been difficult issues within the American public square, but debate has recently intensified with the passage of new abortion restrictions in as many as nine states, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the current struggle for immigration reform in Congress. In June, the Senate passed an immigration bill that has since stalled in the House of Representatives.
Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said that any immigration policy must protect the family and respect the dignity of the human person.
“We have a moral and societal obligation in American life to protect human life and the dignity of human life,” Bishop Soto said. “As Catholics, we must put the Gospel into practice, walk the faith, protect and promote human life and those marginalized. This is the theme of immigration.”
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are more than 40 million immigrants living in the United States. While unauthorized immigration has slowed since 2007, 11 million of those immigrants are classified as undocumented. It is this group that has been the subject of fierce debate in halls of Congress and churches.
In a statement on its website, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said it “opposes ‘enforcement only’ immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform.” Elements of this reform would include an earned legalization program, a future worker program, family-based immigration reform, and border enforcement.
The debate over religious liberty and conscience protection has also come into focus. While brought to the forefront most publicly by the USCCB’s response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate, the question of religious liberty has previously spilled into different arenas such as adoption, immigration and international humanitarian services.
“Even though (the HHS mandate) has been characterized in the press as a mandate to provide contraceptives, it’s really a much bigger issue that the church is concerned about,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz, who heads the diocese of El Paso. “While we find it abhorrent to have to support programs that provide contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, we are even more concerned about the big picture impact on our ability to live in freedom as people of faith.”
That impact has already been felt in the Hispanic community, said Bishop Seitz.
“(The erosion of religious liberty) can cut particularly against Hispanics in many ways because it affects our policies towards immigrants, migration and refugee services and laws that really don’t allow churches to serve immigrants because it’s automatically illegal to do anything for them simply because they’re undocumented,” Bishop Seitz said. “That really cuts directly against the Hispanic immigrants.”
The three-day congress concluded with a Mass celebrated by Galveston-Houston Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, as Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Bishop Seitz and Bishop Soto concelebrated.
Grand Prairie native Cynthia Gonzalez said the debate around social justice issues speaks to the urgent need for Catholics of all ages to take an active approach to their faith; to learn more about it, and live it.
“While a lot of Hispanic Catholics attend Mass, they aren’t aware of the morals and values that we need to keep as Catholics,” Gonzalez said. “If we lose those morals and values, we aren’t Catholics anymore. It’s also really important for us to keep some of the old school values and traditions as Hispanics that were passed on from our grandparents. We can’t get lost in the society.”
For James and Corina Esquivel, meeting that need starts with protecting and nurturing the family.
“I think the family unit has been under attack from the culture,” Corina Esquivel said. “If our kids aren’t taught that God’s mercy extends over and above any decision that has been made, that the church embraces all of us, then they’ll have no hope for the future.”