Surveys find Catholic institutions making strides for immigrant integration, but receiving communities still showing resistance | CLINIC

Surveys find Catholic institutions making strides for immigrant integration, but receiving communities still showing resistance

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Alex Grego

Although Catholic institutions “remain extraordinarily robust,” their future success “will increasingly depend on immigrants and their progeny,” concluded a report by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, based upon two surveys: one among Catholic social and charitable institutions and one among parishes and Catholic schools.

The surveys aimed to ascertain whether Catholic institutions are responding to immigrants’ needs adequately. Of the 67.7 million U.S. Catholics, 15.1 million are foreign-born, according to a study conducted this year, by the Center on Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And the number is rapidly increasing. In light of that data, CMS partnered with CLINIC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church, and Catholic Charities USA to evaluate the integration efforts being undertaken by Catholic schools, parishes, and social and charitable institutions.

Among the findings, the report highlights that although immigrants constitute 39 percent of those who regularly attend Mass, only 21 percent of paid school and parish staff are immigrants. Similarly, immigrants make up 75 percent of people who accessed the services of social and charitable agencies, but they make up only 31 percent of paid staff and 22 percent of program leadership. Other studies have found the same disparities among students: the National Survey of Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families determined that Hispanics constitute 60 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 18, but only 15.3 percent of students in Catholic schools.

In a country where the Catholic population is very culturally diverse, one of the most positive findings was that 87 percent of social and charitable organizations reported that they educate their broader faith community about issues affecting immigrants through community events, World Refugee Day, talks in schools and other venues and working with elected officials.

Parish and school respondents reported that, in aiming to bring together immigrant and native-born communities, they promote cultural competency through presentations, activities and cultural events, namely, Las Posadas, quinceañeras and Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations.

An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they celebrated Mass, provided information, and had staff who spoke Spanish. Participants thought that the services that most strongly support immigrant integration were bilingual or bicultural Mass, English as a Second Language classes and other bicultural events.

However, there seems to be an excessive focus on the Spanish language, the report noted. Twenty-two percent of respondents said immigrants in their communities speak Vietnamese, and 18 percent said Tagalog was common, but a very small percentage of those parishes and schools employ staff who speak those languages.

Although Catholic institutions are making significant efforts in the area of integration, there are still some hurdles to be cleared, it said. Respondents identified obstacles to immigrants accessing their services such as language, cultural issues, transportation and low incomes. Many organizations reported that they have had to adapt to the often long and irregular work schedules of immigrants by providing services on weekends or in the evenings. One respondent reported scheduling consultations via Skype in order to overcome transportation barriers.

The most complicated obstacle, many participants pointed out, was the receiving community. They identified active resistance to immigrants from parish leadership and parishioners. One respondent characterized the work of educating the native-born community as “the most challenging part of our job and mission.”