Mahony Unveils Broad Latino Aid Plan : Social Activism, Evangelization Aimed at 2 Million in Archdiocese

Times Religion Writer

A far-reaching program of social activism to help the estimated 2 million Latino Catholics in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese was announced Tuesday by Archbishop Roger M. Mahony.

The archbishop said the plan includes a visit this summer by church volunteers to the home of every Latino in the sprawling three-county archdiocese and will focus on evangelization, family life, education, youth, gangs and preserving the “close link between faith and Hispanic culture.”

“No other diocese in the nation has a plan for Hispanics so definite, so concrete, so comprehensive,” Mahony said of the project, which will be officially launched Sunday evening at Dodger Stadium during a festival in Spanish marking the Feast of Corpus Christi.


The “Plan for Hispanic Ministry,” announced at a press conference at chancery headquarters, reflects a move toward greater activism by the church in Latino communities that was called for by Mahony when he became archbishop Sept. 5. In his installation sermon, he spoke of the need to help the area’s poor and ethnic groups. The next day, he asked his staff to consult with Latinos about their needs and problems.

Among other things, the plan, which Mahony said will cost the church $2 million the first year, calls for:

--Establishment of centers for the homeless and immigrants in each of the archdiocese’s five pastoral regions.

--Establishment of task forces to oppose the eviction of illegal aliens from federal housing and to halt gang violence.

--Organization of Latina nuns to evangelize in the Latino community.

--The opening of parochial schools at night and during vacation periods for English classes and Spanish-language classes in reading, citizenship and other subjects.

--Provision of additional “subsidies and scholarships” to Latino families to make parochial school more affordable.


To implement the project, about 15 Spanish-speaking administrators will immediately be hired full time, with the number to be increased to perhaps 200 or more within five years, Mahony said.

In announcing the plan, Mahony said consultations with Latinos in the archdiocese, which includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, showed there was an “ever-growing number of Hispanics marginated and alienated from the church.”

Affects New Refugees

“This includes many long-time residents of the archdiocese who are swept up by the materialistic secularism of the dominant society. It also affects the newly arrived refugees and immigrants who are made to feel unwelcome in a strange, new land.”

A section on “outreach in justice” in the 10-page plan says the archdiocese “expresses its concern and disapproval” of the federal government’s announced program to evict illegal aliens from federally subsidized housing. A task force will monitor evictions and recommend “a specific course of action,” according to the document.

The five centers for immigrants and the homeless will provide temporary shelter, food banks, and job, medical and immigration counseling, Mahony said.

The plan represents the culmination of a three-year planning process that Mahony said was designed to “reach out to restore, strengthen and deepen” the faith of Latino Catholics.


‘It’s Their Work’

“These ideas came from grass-roots Hispanics. It’s their work, not mine,” he said.

During the last several years, a series of regional encuentros, or consultations, were sponsored throughout the nation by the U.S. Catholic Conference, concluding with a national convocation in Washington in August. Latino Catholics were asked to recommend ways the church could better meet their needs.

A national plan for Hispanic ministry arising from these meetings will not be ready until 1988, Mahony said, whereas “our plan is ready now, so we are going ahead.”

Leaders in East Los Angeles’ United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO), a grass-roots church-based community group with broad participation by thousands of Eastside families, welcomed the archdiocese’s plan Tuesday. As members of Eastside Catholic parishes, many UNO members had participated in formulating it, they said.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen this broad-based approach in our church,” UNO President Dan Saenz said. “I’m especially pleased that the Hispanic community has had an equal opportunity to be part of the process.

Opportunity to Participate

“The archbishop sees that we are a viable part of the archdiocese, so he’s giving us--along with every other ethnic group--an opportunity to participate,” Saenz said. “Sunday’s celebration is a recognition of the contributions of Hispanics.”

Lou Negrete, a Chicano studies professor at California State State University, Los Angeles, and a member of UNO, said the archdiocese’s involvement of Latino Catholics in forming its goals in many ways parallels the methods of UNO and its sister organization in South-Central Los Angeles, the South-Central Organizing Committee.


Negrete noted that UNO is already working to oppose evictions from federally subsidized housing.

“We see the archdiocese’s plan as a very healthy development,” Negrete said. “We expect to work much closer with the archdiocese in addressing the needs of the community.”

A Larger Reorganization

The Latino plan is part of a larger reorganization within the Los Angeles Archdiocese--which officially numbers 2.65 million Catholics but which chancery officials estimate to be closer to 3 million because of incomplete reporting procedures. Every parishioner has been asked to complete a questionnaire on five-year goals for the archdiocese and a final convocation of all parishes to synthesize the findings will be held in November.

The Latino plan calls for formation of an Archdiocesan Council of Youth Gangs to communicate with youth gangs and sponsor activities to halt gang violence and find jobs for gang members.

Mahony said a similar effort in the Diocese of Stockton, where he was bishop from 1980 to 1985, contributed to a decrease in gang-related killings from 38 in 1980 to only one last year.

More Latino youth ministers will be trained, according to the plan, and the archdiocese’s 165 heavily Latino parishes will be encouraged to hire them.


In addition, day-care centers will be financed and staffed to serve “latch-key” children--those left without supervision while their parents, who cannot afford to pay baby-sitters, are at work.

Recruitment, Training

The plan also will expand a requirement that seminary students be bilingual before they can be ordained as priests, and calls for the recruitment and training of more Spanish-speaking seminarians at the archdiocesan college and seminary in Camarillo. A Latino priest will be hired to supervise the recruitment drive, Mahony said, and a Spanish-language component in a six-week course for priests and religious workers will be extended.

Also contributing to this article was Times staff writer Marita Hernandez.