Posted November 7, 2005
Home visits seen as way to reach unchurched Hispanics
By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service
SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- Being a welcoming church to the growing number of
Hispanic immigrants often means knocking on their doors, said Martin
Martinez, who teaches people in Hispanic ministry how to conduct house
"A lot of faith is celebrated in Hispanic homes," said Martinez, giving as
examples the Mexican custom of erecting a home altar to commemorate the dead
and the placing of religious statues in the house.
Home visits conducted by lay people that capitalize on Hispanics' popular
religiosity can be a way of tapping into that faith and to let the household
know there is a Catholic parish nearby willing to help serve their needs, he
Martinez is coordinator of the Lay Leadership Formation Program at the
Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio. The center trains people
engaged in Hispanic ministry. One of the center's workshops, he said,
teaches participants how to conduct house visits "in a nonthreatening way."
Reaching Hispanics who do not go to any church is the biggest challenge
facing Hispanic ministry today, Martinez told Catholic News Service.
The number of unchurched Hispanics is growing and they usually become
members "of the first church that gives them help," said Martinez, noting
the success that outreach programs of evangelical Christian churches are
having in attracting Hispanics.
One approach he teaches is having parish teams bring blessed, noneucharistic
bread to Hispanic homes on Holy Thursday.
The practice stems from a tradition related to Holy Thursday Mass
commemorating the Last Supper: After the Mass the priest blesses a basket
filled with loaves of bread for the parishioners to take home, said
Martinez, a second-generation Mexican-American.
To reach the unchurched, parish teams take this bread to the homes of
nonchurchgoers telling them that they want to share the loaves with the
family as the family was unable to attend Mass, he said.
Another method is using traditions tied to important church feast days, said
Before Christmas, parishioners will knock on doors asking nonchurchgoers if
their house can be used during the "posada" procession, he said.
The Mexican custom of the "posada," Spanish for "inn" or for "providing
lodging," recalls the problems Joseph and the pregnant Mary had looking for
a place to stay in Bethlehem before being allowed to rest in the stable
where Christ was born.
The procession, led by a couple representing Joseph and Mary, goes from
house to house where they are refused lodging until one house grants
hospitality. Then everyone on the procession route gathers at that house for
During Holy Week people also are invited to participate in an outdoor Way of
the Cross procession on Good Friday, said Martinez.
Another important popular tradition is "Dia de los Muertos," Spanish for the
"day of the dead," celebrated around All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day,
Nov. 1 and 2. It is a Mexican religious custom during this time to visit
family burial plots to commemorate the dead and then to celebrate with food
Visitation teams go door-to-door to invite nonchurchgoers to visit the
cemetery and celebrate with their parish neighbors, said Martinez.
Other outreach techniques involve inviting nonchurchgoers to attend a house
blessing of a neighbor and then asking if they would like their houses
blessed, he said.
"We are tapping into things once thought superstitious or unimportant," he
The aim is to remind people that these celebrations are part of their
religious heritage and to use these events to begin a conversation, Martinez
"The unchurched have faith, but they need to be brought into the life of the
parish," he said.
Reasons why many Hispanics do not go to church are varied, Martinez said.
Many new immigrants are not used to going to church regularly because they
arrived from rural parts of their homeland that has no resident priest, he
said. They were used to seeing a circuit-riding priest once every few
months, he added.
Home visits can also help in evangelizing third- and fourth-generation
Hispanics who are losing their identity in the larger U.S. society, Martinez
"This is part of the new evangelization for native-born Hispanics," he said.
The aim is to help them understand that these religious traditions are gifts
that should not be lost, he said.