Should Catholic youth groups be ethnically segregated?

My father, a first generation Mexican-American, is fond of saying, “America doesn’t just have an immigration problem – it has an assimilation problem.”  As a public school teachers, my mom and dad worked with many undocumented students and saw up close how curricula steeped in multiculturalism and political correctness rob so many students of even the most basic knowledge of our founding fathers and the principles and values that have made our nation unique and great.


Two Americans attend World Youth Day in 2011. Photo: CNA.

Not being bound together by a common history is problematic enough, but at least we have the universal Church to bring us together.

Or do we?

A current trend in Catholic youth ministry is the division of youth groups by ethnicity.  It’s not uncommon in parishes with large Hispanic populations, for example, to have a separate youth group for Hispanic teens.  It’s a troubling trend I hope parishes will reconsider because it flies in the face of the whole notion of the universality of the Church.  Segregation doesn’t bring us together or promote diversity and understanding.  But coming together to pray and celebrate our shared love of Christ and His Church can.

I had a first hand experience with this when I was 25 years old and spent a summer living in Kerala, India.  For those who don’t know, Kerala is a predominately Catholic state located in southwestern India.  Evangelized first by the apostle Saint Thomas and later St. Francis Xavier, the people of Kerala are devout, practicing Catholics. My experience living with an Indian family was unmistakably transformed by the simple fact that we shared a common faith.  The cultural chasm between us shriveled next to the overpowering strength of our shared history – a lineage we could trace back through the centuries to St. Peter and to Jesus himself.

I vividly remember the first time I went to Mass in India.  When I arrived I saw a sea of shoes at the church entrance.   “When in Rome (or India)”, I thought as I removed my shoes and walked into a church devoid of pews with worshipers sitting on the floor.  The women sat on one side of the church while the men sat together on the other.  And though the Mass was said in their native language, Malayalam, I could easily follow the order of the Mass, the prayers at consecration and feel every bit a part of the celebration.

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the instantaneous acceptance I received from my Indian “family” and the inexplicable sense of connectedness I felt toward them was the sole result of our shared faith.  Here I was, the product of centuries of Spanish and Mexican ancestry, a second generation American steeped in Western pop culture and yet, our Catholicism transcended everything.

Why wouldn’t this work in an American Catholic youth group where teens have far more shared cultural experiences?

Besides, are we really doing Hispanic teens a favor by not encouraging them to be part of the larger community?  Isn’t there something patronizing and ultimately unhelpful about balkanizing minority groups when we all know that their success greatly depends on how well they can navigate the world beyond their ethnic enclave? Aren’t we also robbing non-Hispanic teens of potential friendships and learning experiences they might not otherwise have?

Our country has never been more divided. If we as a church cannot encourage our young people to find common ground in faith, what hope does this nation have?


Rachel Campos-Duffy is an author, pundit, and mother of six. She works with The LIBRE Initiative, an organization that promotes economic empowerment and opportunity for Hispanics.



Categories:Feature Immigration

  • keysersoze

    When Richard Rodriguez entered first grade at Sacred Heart School in Sacramento, California, his English vocabulary consisted of barely fifty words. All his classmates were white. He kept quiet, listening to the sounds of middle-class American speech, and feeling alone. After school he would return home to the pleasing, soothing sounds of his family’s Spanish.

    When his English showed little sign of improvement, the nuns at his school asked Rodriguez’s parents to speak more English at home. Eager to help their son, his mother and father complied. “Ahora, speak to us en inglés,” they would say. Their effort to bring him into the linguistic mainstream had far-reaching results. Rodriguez went on to earn a degree in English at Stanford and one in philosophy at Columbia. He then pursued a doctorate in English Renaissance literature at Berkeley and spent a year in London on a Fulbright scholarship….

  • Jim Lee

    This is occurring throughout our Diocese. It is a painful reality that we face. We have fought so long to teach our son and the youth we have come in contact with in our youth programs, to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. One of our biggest disappointments as youth ministers, was the deliberate and planned segregation of our youth groups. We did everything we could to bring both groups together. We were unsuccessful in the end. While the youth fully understand what the word catholic means, many adults, parents and those in Church leadership seem to have a different spin on that word. They use the word “culture” as the excuse for this segregation. However I feel that it is a false premise that damages our faith and our country. I will continue to pray for our youth, and our country. And I have faith that God will sort this all out eventually. In the interim we ask for your prayers as well.

  • Stephanie

    I agree 100%. However, it doesn’t stop at just the teens. Our diocese has many ethnic “communities” to the extent that some are even their own parishes yet are called “centers”. I see this trend as a “Balkanization” of our faith. We are to be “one holy and apostolic” but how can that be when we are so divided?

  • Reyes

    So what if “both groups want it that way”?

    Niether group is very good at actually acting Catholic instead of being a big group of racists.

    Get the kids together, and have them come together through shared faith. If the parents want to complain they can go to the Protestants down the road. Lots of Protestant groups tstill think segregation is a good idea.

    Sheesh. I’m a trilingual white lady married to a monolingual Mexican guy- if we can overcome our differences and get married through faith, I don’t see the difficulty in making real friendships.

    • Chuck Ring

      You said, “Lots of Protestant groups tstill think segregation is a good idea.”
      I don’t know where you live, but could it be you don’t venture far from the safety of your Parrish.
      I am a Protestant in New Mexico and I challenge you to name those groups you mention or be kind enough to reconsider and retract your statement.
      Other than the nit I have picked, I agree and want to see people united and not divided.

  • dymphna

    I don’t like the separation but both the Hispanic and white parishioners want it that way.

    • James Roberts

      Maybe in your parish. In the three parishes I have been to in my semi-immediate area, the non-Hispanics are mostly welcoming of the Hispanics even though they have been, quite honestly, shoved down our throats by the diocese and treated much better than the Oriental, Indian, and Black populations. As for the Hispanics, there are basically two groups, those that join in with everyone else, go to whatever mass, and are generally wonderful people. The other group only goes to the Hispanic mass, think they are vastly superior to any non-Hispanic, and are very rude. This group gives very little in the collection but expects much, thinks it owns the church, only participates and volunteers for Hispanic only events, and will arrive very early for the Hispanic mass and make a lot of noise while mass is going on even during the Consecration.

      • Gwen

        I wasn’t going to leave a comment but I had too. When you make that comment that one group of Hispanics are rude and think that they are better and only go to Spanish mass it’s so wrong to say that everyone in that group is like that. I go to only Spanish mass here are the reasons why and I must say that a lot of the people that go to only Spanish mass because of the same reasons or a few of the same.
        I have a mother that speaks mostly Spanish; she understands English but not sure if the person talks to fast.
        If she can understand the person but the person is rude to her and makes a comment that is more of this can you speak better English or clearer or even better I don’t speak Spanish when the old lady is speaking English.
        I, like to go to mass with my mother and child also it’s a great way for my child to learn more Spanish even though he goes to a school where they teach English, Spanish or English and foreign languages.
        When you make that comment that we pay less?! And make noise come on really? Those comments right there are just plan rude and racist! I have volunteered for both Hispanic and (so called white events) none rude people may called English events. The reason I prefer the Hispanic events is because I don’t have to deal with people who act just the same way you did in this public form to my persons and want more Hispanics to help when people with yourself views make us (as a group) uncomfortable.



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