Because of growing numbers of Hispanics among the general population of the United States, the Church is becoming ever more intent on meeting her pastoral responsibility in their regard.
While estimates of their numbers vary, it is quite generally conceded that there are at least twenty million Hispanics in the country. With an increasing influx of immigrants from various Latin American countries, and a higher rate of fertility among them than is common among the general population, the proportion of Hispanics on the mainland is bound to increase notably in the immediate future, predictably more than that of any other ethnic group. With reason it is claimed that by the turn of the century, half of the Catholic population of the United States will be Hispanic. The Church is aware of this phenomenon and is endeavoring to prepare for it.
Time was when the term "Hispanic" was virtually synonymous with "Catholic." But this is no longer so rigorously true. That ethnic group which during the first four centuries following the Discovery of the.New World was considered most solidly aligned with the Catholic Faith has recently been drifting away from it, and in appalling numbers. Estimates are now current that almost one-quarter of the Hispanics in the United States today – perhaps even more – having abandoned their Catholic heritage, belong to one or other Evangelical Protestant denomination. The rate. at which Latins are said to be forswearing their traditional Catholic faith is patently growing. If we must assign a single reason for this, seemingly the unfortunate lack of religious and priestly vocations among them is the first, the consequence of the lack of basic instruction in the Faith. No less significant is the absence of that form of ecclesial association which would appeal to their specific psychological needs. The typical Latin is a highly personalist being, for whom heroes have a special attraction and a unique power to establish bonds of union.
Aware that this pastoral problem calls for innovative pastoral solutions, the Church has been making notable efforts to meet the challenge. The character and special genius of the Latin peoples, of Hispanics, demand a more emotional element in forms of worship than that which is common to the more traditional forms of American Catholic piety and devotion. In 1983 at their November national meeting, the Bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter in which they pledged themselves to work "in creating pastoral visions and strategies which, drawing upon a memorable past, are made new by the creative hands of the present." In this lies a valuable suggestion. Devotion to the Blessed Mother of God and to the Saints has been and continues to be a notable, a salient, feature of Hispanic piety. The personalist element – which is so notable an element in the Latin psyche – could well be used to assure a more profound loyalty and a more intense adherence to the Mystical Body of Christ. By presenting for devotion, for admiration, for imitation, for inspiration and for a legitimate sense of pride, the heroes of the Hispanic history of the United States, the Church has in her power the opportunity and the means of securing more intensely the allegiance of the Hispanic faithful.
As a move of great pastoral promise, the Beatification and Canonization of some chosen figures from their glorious history – "the memorable past" – would call to the attention of modern-day Hispanics in our midst what their people have done for the Church and the salvation of souls in the past. No group of missionaries has left a more glorious record of dedication and accomplishment than the Spanish sons of St. Francis in the territory which is now the United States of America. And from among the near countless ranks of these missionaries, from among those who died that the Faith might be established in our land, the Five Martyrs of Georgia have been selected by their modern-day confreres and successors as outstanding representatives of that "Martyrum candidatus exercitus" who gave their lives that Christ the King might reign in this Land of Liberty.
”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.
St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.
Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.
Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.
Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.
Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.
St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.