Responding to Proselytism

Authored By: Hispanic Bishops of California


Letter of California's Hispanic Bishops issued in May 1988.

We, the Hispanic bishops of California, wish to express to you, the Hispanic people of California, by means of this pastoral letter the deep love and concern we have for you. We share the same history, culture and struggles, and your opportunities and problems are our opportunities and problems. We wish to encourage you to be all that you can be and all that God desires you to be. You are the sons and daughters of God! St. Paul expresses this marvelous truth in his Letter to the Galatians:

"You are no longer a slave but a son! And the fact that you are a son makes you an heir, by God's design" (Gal.4:7).

Our brother bishops of California, and indeed all the bishops of the United States, share these same sentiments with us in regard to you. You are a very important part of the church in California and throughout the United States. This conviction was already expressed in the words of the pastoral letter "The Hispanic Presence: Challenge and Commitment" addressed to you by all the bishops of the United States on Dec. 12, 1983: "At this moment of grace we recognize the Hispanic community among us as a blessing from God." What we say here is meant to reinforce this conviction of ours and communicate it to you more effectively.

Your and Our Concerns Are Many

You have many concerns. Your lives are not as full, peaceful, meaningful and dignified as you would like. Some of you live in continuous fear because of your immigration status and the inadequacy of the existing immigration policies. Many of you are parents and are experiencing great confusion and difficulty in raising your children in another culture, a culture which is markedly different from our traditional Hispanic cultures. You do not always find understanding and acceptance for yourselves or your children. A growing number of your children do complete high school and go on to college and a profession, thanks to their own dedication and the support they receive from you. Many, nevertheless, are dropping out of school. An alarming number are involved with gangs and drugs. The unemployment rate is also high among you. Very large numbers work hard for low wages and often receive iittle or no benefits such as medical care and insurance. Your children's future is already threatened before birth by the lack of prenatal care and the anti-conception, pro-abortion mentality of many segments of society in the United States. The aged among you, our beloved ancianos, moreover, are forced to live in inadequate conditions because of the lack of affordable housing.

We, the Hispanic bishops of California, take all of these realities to heart. We are concerned about you, body and soul, materially and spiritually. That integral concern inspires us today as we reflect on your circumstances as immigrant people and as a minority within U.S. society. We hope that this letter will be one of many which will allow us to approach these concerns in a constructive way. At this time we wish to concentrate on a situation that especially saddens us.

One Situation Especially Saddens Us

The main concern we wish to address at this time is the drift to other religions of so many Hispanics who were baptized and often raised in the Catholic faith. We hope that our words will not be taken as an attack on true religious respect, on true ecumenism, as that wonderful movement has developed since the time of Pope John XXIII. This drift to other religions is usually the direct result of an aggressive and disrespectful proselytism on the part of some so-called Christian sects, not the mainline denominations of Protestant Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church enjoys ever- increasing mutual understanding and respect with the vast majority of Protestant Christian traditions. We are maintaining a dialogue in the pursuit of Christian unity with them. This was the prayer of Jesus Christ: "that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

If you are among those who are no longer practicing Catholics, ask yourselves why and then read this letter, which is in a very special way addressed and dedicated to you because we care about you. If you are presently an active member of the Catholic Church, you should also read this letter in order to reaffirm your faith and to help us bring back those who have fallen away.

Why Some Leave the Catholic Church

What are some factors which have alienated some of our Hispanic brothers and sisters?

1. Members of religious sects might have visited you and confused you. They lead some of you to believe that the teachings and practices of our church are wrong or contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ. They try to "prove" this to you citing tests from the Bible. Some of you may have felt that your eyes and ears were opened to the truth and that you had been deceived by priests and other Catholic teachers. Frequently those who attack Catholic doctrine do not really know what the doctrines are. They have incomplete and unfounded ideas about what the church really teaches. You are told, for instance, that it is wrong to pray to the saints or even to Mary, and to "adore" statues as they claim we do. First of all, Catholics are not taught to adore the saints or statues. We adore only God. We do believe, however, that God has special friends, people of exceptional virtue and integrity -- the saints -- who have attained a level of holiness, of intense friendship with him, that allows them to be special instruments of his grace. God has always reached down to us through others, most especially through Jesus Christ. The saints can intercede for other human beings before God. This has been the ancient custom and belief of Christians from the earliest times of Christianity. It seems very strange, moreover, that these sects should attack us for venerating the saints, since it is a common and very commendable human custom to venerate the memory, the image or the photograph of family, dear friends and loved ones. Do we not keep photographs of loved ones in our wallet and lovingly contemplate them from time to time?

The church presents saints to us as heroes of virtue and as models to follow. The saints are special members of God's family. They are God's dear friends and loved ones. If great and miraculous events come about through the intercession of Mary and the saints, it is all due to God, whom we know through Jesus Christ and his followers down through the ages.

2. Another reason why you may be disenchanted with the church is that you might have felt that you were not understood by a priest or religious at some time or other. Some priests and religious are extremely tired and under stress due to the heavy demands made upon their time and human energies. Like everybody else, some priests and religious find it difficult at times to balance work, study, prayer and wholesome relaxation. Be aware that those who are called to serve in the church -- in our church and in any other church for that matter -- are subject to imperfections. They are men and women burdened by the same weaknesses and faults as everyone else.

Because of the heavy burdens and stress placed upon those who are called to serve in the church, we encourage you to show support and solidarity to them in a common effort to meet the spiritual and social challenges that we all face.

In many places, however, it is not a question of finding a priest who, for whatever reason, does not attend to you adequately. Rather, you do not find any Spanish- speaking priest at all and therefore you do not find the Mass and other services in Spanish. Many seminaries and religious congregations are making special appeals to Hispanic candidates for the priesthood. Learning Spanish is a requirement for ordination to the priesthood in some dioceses of California today. So there will be more Spanish-speaking priests to serve you. There are also many Spanish-speaking deacons serving you throughout California as well as committed religious men and women. There are many lay leaders collaborating with the priest. But if there is a shortage of priests, is it not due in part to the failure to cultivate vocations in the home? That is where you can help by fostering vocations, especially in the family.

3. The religious sects claim that we do not read or know the Bible in the Catholic Church. If today we and they enjoy the Bible, it is because the Catholic Church preserved it over the ages as a source of divine revelation. Our Hispanic Catholicism, for example, is permeated with a graphic and dramatic sense of the truths of Sacred Scripture. What else do you consider our religious celebrations with their Christmas pageants (pastorelas), our Holy Week drama and our household recitation of the rosary wherein we meditate on the major events in the Gospel story! Are not our cathedrals, churches, chapels and shrines graphic displays of biblical truths and are they not frequently more moving than words printed on a page? Finally, the eucharistic liturgy, the focal point of our prayer and worship, is permeated with scriptural elements.

Why Be a Catholic?

There are many reasons why we are blessed to be Catholic Christians. Let us consider now some of the advantages of being a Catholic:

1. We beiong to a church and tradition that traces itself back to Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. The religious sects pressuring you find their origins hundreds of years after the death of Christ. The continuity in faith and tradition that we enjoy as Catholics, in contrast, is beautifully expressed in the role of the successor of St. Peter, who is the pope. Peter unquestionably had a special function among the first apostles. Since the death of Peter, the church has maintained a historical list of the bishops of Rome who succeeded him. We Catholics should be grateful to God for this. In Matthew's Gospel we hear Jesus conferring upon Peter a special responsibility: "I say to you that you are Peter" (rock in the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus) "and upon this rock I will build my church" "and whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Mt. 16:18).

2. We Catholics have the privilege of enjoying a special relationship to Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is especially true of the Hispanic communities, who venerate Mary under many different titles. One of these is Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, whose image is venerated on the tilma of Juan Diego pre served in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. That image was entrusted to Juan Diego, who had only recently been baptized in the Catholic faith.

To accept the teaching of the sects is to reject Mary and what she stands for God's wonderful plan of redemption. To join these sects is to betray the Marion tradition of our ancestros, who saw so clearly the terrible contradiction involved in accepting and loving Christ while rejecting or ignoring his mother.

The sacraments are opportunities to encounter God here and now. In the eucharist, or holy communion, we encounter Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. This sacrament was left to us by Christ himself the night of his passion. The eucharistic liturgy, the Mass, is a biblically based celebration and incorporates almost countless biblical references in its various parts. The sects reject this marvelous sacramental encounter and therefore deprive their members of this incredible opportunity.

The sacrament of reconciliation was also instituted by Christ: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (Jn. 20:22-23). This sacrament has a long history and has been practiced in different ways from the very beginning of the church. The custom of privately confessing one's sin to the priest is very ancient. Those who take advantage of this wonderful encounter with Jesus Christ to receive absolution for sins committed after baptism can tell you how freeing and encouraging it is. Modern psychology tells us how important it is to overcome guilt and doubt in our lives. The sacrament of reconciliation, penance or confession as it is called, is a great blessing given us by Jesus Christ himself. It has been faithfully preserved in the Catholic Church.

4. Our Catholic faith is part of an ancient heritage of which we as Catholics of Hispanic origin should be especially proud. Today half the Roman Catholics of the world trace their religious and cultural heritage back to Spain and Portugal and to the rich popular Catholicism of Latin America. This Catholicism reflects the profound religious traditions of the indigenous cultures of the Americas into which it was grafted.

As Catholics we are part of a truly worldwide family of Faith. The travels of our Holy Father Pope John Paul II have called attention more than ever before to the universal nature of our Catholic tradition and its vitality in a world looking for answers to so many questions about the meaning of human existence.


We, the Hispanic bishops of California, have addressed this pastoral letter to you, the many and diverse Hispanic communities of California. We have initiated a dialogue and have expressed our concern and real affection (carino) for you. Our love is only a faint shadow of God's infinite love for each and every one of you.

We wish to encourage you to assume your proper, active role in society and in the church. Remember always that the Roman Catholic Church is the church of our forefathers, of your abuelos. If you have left its ranks or moved away from it, we want to welcome you back. If you are a faithful member struggling to live your heritage of faith, we hope you will reaffirm others in that faith with the assistance and under the protection of the Virgin Mary, our mother.

We sincerely hope that all those involved in ministry and service in the church -- your parish priests, your parish staff and your teachers -- will take our words to heart. While these words have been addressed especially to you, our Hispanic brothers and sisters, it is the parish priest and his collaborators who have the primary responsibility to make our parishes and schools real communities that foster the hospitality and fellowship needed to make the concerns we express here something more than wishful thinking.

We pledge our continuing efforts to help you achieve the level of dignity and respect owed you as children of a loving God and brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, as servants of that Lord, have pledged our lives to proclaim his Gospel. May you join with us in that joyful proclamation as Catholics of Hispanic origin: And may you do so with all your mind, heart and soul! Que Dios Nuestro Senor les bendiga abundantemente.

The six Hispanic bishops who signed this letter are: Joseph Madera; Auxiliary Bishops Juan Arzube, Gilbert Chavez, Alphonse Gallegos and Armando Ochoa; and retired Archbishop Tomas Clavel.

This document was taken from "Cults, Sects, and the New Age," by Rev. James J. LeBar, available from Our Sunday Visitor Press, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750.