Mexican seminary holds the key to future growth of U.S. Catholicism


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Mexican seminary holds the key to future growth of U.S. Catholicism

By Mariana Llamas-Cendon

Latinalista

The U.S. Catholic Church is experiencing serious competition and as a result has lost many parishioners to other religions. According to the Pew Forum on Religions and Public Life, about a 31.4 percent of U.S. adults reported they were raised Catholic; however, nowadays only 23.9 percent of adults identify themselves as such.

“Recent studies point out the loss of our Catholic brothers to other religious groups; studies commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of the Immigration Services, accused us of a lack of evangelic hospitality and racial aperture even to our own Catholic brothers,” said Rodriguez Placido, Bishop of Lubbock, at the Conference of the National Association of Hispanic Priests in October of 1996.

In 1999, as a way of facing this problem, the Seminario Hispano de Santa Maria de Guadalupe (Hispanic Seminary of Santa Maria de Guadalupe) was created by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico.

The Hispanic Seminary, located in Mexico City, is committed to receiving and preparing Hispanic seminarians and priests from the U.S. and Canada and training them to better serve their U.S.-based communities.

Father Rodrigo Benitez, Rector of the Hispanic Seminary

(Photo: Mariana Llamas-Cendon)

“All of them are Hispanic seminarians. By Hispanics, I mean they speak Spanish,” said Father Rodrigo Benitez, Rector of the Hispanic Seminary.

The process

The admission process to the Hispanic Seminary starts with the vocational directors of each U.S. diocese. Interested seminarians fill out an application explaining their interest in studying elsewhere.

“(Seminarians) begin a process through orientation, talks and various activities, in which it is determined if those students can conclude their education where they already are or in other parts, such as Mexico,” said Father Benitez.

Each diocese evaluates, according to the vocational interest of the seminarians, their family environment, their humane and apostolic formation, and also requests letters of recommendation either from priests or the community in which they reside.

Once an application is admitted, each diocese thoroughly performs medical and psychological tests on those interested in continuing their education in Mexico.

“The minimum schooling level to be admitted is high school,” said Father Benitez.

According to Father Benitez, most of the seminarians received by the Hispanic Seminary are immigrants whose vocation or schooling had suffered interruptions, due to immigration or family issues.

The organization

The Hispanic Seminary has an ordinary group session, which starts in August and ends in May or at the beginning of July. There is also an eight-week summer group, in which attendees only speak English.

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Seminary’s library.

(Photo: Mariana Llamas-Cendon)

Seminarians, basically, spend one to four years at the Hispanic Seminary.

The ordinary group education levels are divided in two different assignments: Philosophy and Theology.

To obtain a Pontifical bachelor’s degree, seminarians are required to take three years of philosophical studies at the Pontifical University of Mexico, and/or four years of theology studies at the Institute of Ecclesiastical Superior Studies, also in Mexico.

However, the Hispanic Seminary tries to address the necessities of each of the U.S. dioceses through their students.

“English classes are a requirement. We also have services in English language twice a week, as well as morning and afternoon prayers,” said Father Benitez. Graduation though comes only after a Priestly Ordinance.

The results

The Hispanic Seminary has only been around for ten years, but it already has 18 graduate students who reside in a variety of dioceses in the U.S.

Student chapel at the Hispanic Seminary.

(Photo: Mariana Llamas-Cendon)

“We have five in Tucson, Arizona; and two in San Antonio, Texas,” said Father Benitez.

“The dioceses are responsible for paying accommodations as well as a part of their tuition, and they cover it in its entirety,” said Father Benitez. “This is different from the Mexican seminaries, in which it is either the family, a priest or someone else interested in the seminarian’s education who absorbs the expenses”.

Up to last year, the seminary’s capacity was 30 seminarians. This year, they are able to admit 36. It is said that for every ten young men that arrive, another ten are leaving.

Seminary officials attribute the success of the program to the Hispanic Seminary of Santa Maria de Guadalupe’s unique mission of enhancing the U.S. Catholic Church.

According to the mission statement of the Hispanic Seminary, “It is not intended to develop a ‘Hispanic Church’ within the U.S. church…

“The Hispanic pastoral performed by the Hispanic Seminary of Santa Maria de Guadalupe aims to achieve the full integration of Hispanics to the U.S. Catholic Church.”

It is a goal that is imperative given the fact that it is Hispanics who are being credited with revitalizing Catholic congregations across the country, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

In turn, creating a Catholic Church whose survival depends on practicing inclusion of all of its members.