We were delighted to get to talk to Michael I. Kueber about his newest book, Preaching to Latinos: Welcoming the Hispanic Moment in the U.S. Church (CUA Press, 2023). Fr. Kueber is Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.
Q: What do you think is one of the greatest misconceptions Non-Latino clergy and laity have regarding Catholics of Hispanic heritage?
A: I think the greatest misconception is that all Latinos are immigrants born in Hispanic countries. In fact, the majority of Latinos are born here in the United States. In 2019, 67% of the 60.6 million Hispanics in the US were born in the US. This is over 40 million Latinos that are US born! Another misconception is that Hispanics are monolithic: that is to say, they are all the same. Rather, they vary greatly by their countries of origin and their diverse cultures. Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Columbians, and Hondurans make up the largest groups of Hispanic immigrants in the US. A Puerto Rican emigrating from an island in the Caribbean is quite different from an Ecuadorian immigrant from the mountains of Ecuador.
Q: Among first generation immigrants, how might their faith lives be shaped by what countries or regions they came from?
A: The faith is alive in the first generation immigrants. They believe deeply in Jesus Christ and his blessed mother Mary. They want to see the power of God manifested in their families. The countries they came from imparted this faith to them through signs and symbols, and they seek to practice this faith in their new world. Every Hispanic country has specific devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The most famous of these comes from Mexico: our Lady of Guadalupe. Nevertheless, in Cuba they celebrate the Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity of the Copper) to commemorate Mary’s maternal care for the mineworkers in Cuba. In El Salvador, Catholics venerate Our Lady of Peace, whereas in Honduras, they celebrate Our Lady of Suyapa.
Q: What is one way you hope to see this Hispanic Moment influence the larger US Church?
A: The Hispanic Moment is breathing new life into the larger US Catholic Church because the Hispanic population is younger and having families and wanting to raise those families in the Catholic faith. Besides new members, the Hispanic community brings their culture to enrich the experience of Catholic life in the US. Their love for processions, statues, images, and food enrich the experience of the Catholic parish.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book? What came easiest?
A: I think the hardest part of writing this book is reflecting on my pastoral experience of working with Hispanics for over 20 years and trying to make that experience come alive for others who have very little experience working with the Hispanic community. Also, trying to put myself in the shoes of a pastor/or pastoral worker who is indifferent to the Hispanic community and culture. I needed to become more empathetic to both Hispanics and Anglos in both cases. What was easiest was sharing my experiences because I have a deep love for Hispanic cultures and people, and who have changed my life in positive ways.
Q: Preaching to Latinos is primarily directed toward non-Latino clergy, but what can non-Latino lay people do to welcome this Hispanic Moment?
A: I think the most important thing is to welcome each and every Hispanic person! For example, recently after Sunday Mass, the Hispanic community at my parish was selling Tamales. I was eating Tamales and drinking coffee with a father, Willie, and his son Willie Jr. I introduced myself to them and found out they were from the Dominican Republic. We had a great conversation about Willie Jr. and his fiance and their wedding plans to get married in a parish in Spain. Willie was overjoyed as he showed me a picture of his beloved. Then Willie Sr. told me about the faith life of the people in the Dominican Republic and how much they love Jesus, his mother Mary, and the Catholic Church. I told both of them that I am glad they are here and they are most welcome in this parish. I expressed my hopes for them: “My dream is that you could share your rich Hispanic heritage with the people in this parish, both Hispanics and Anglos. That the two could become one in Christ.”