Familias en la lucha: The religious educational journey of Hispanic families in New York City

Valerie Torres, Fordham University


The past forty years has been a time of great change in the history of the Catholic Church, including the educational role of the family. In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the baptized are called a "People of God," and the family is described as a "domestic church." 1 In it, people are called upon to actively and responsibly work for the common good, to return to religious traditions in the home, and to care for the marginalized in one's family and community. The document challenges all to see the urgency of family members taking responsibility to work together for each other's survival and growth. With the belief that "family is at the heart of the Latino culture"2 and attentive to the challenge of Pope John Paul II that "the church can and ought to take on a more homelike or family dimension, developing a more human and fraternal style of relationships," 3 this study examines what it can mean to support and journey with Roman Catholic Latino families residing in New York City from the perspective of a parish religious educator. The case study method is used to probe the lived experience of Hispanic families as religious educators, and the role of parish religious educators seeking to journey with families. Conducting case study research is particularly important within the context of Latino communities where the diversity in families, neighborhoods, parishes, and schools is immense and multifaceted. Fieldwork was conducted at six parishes. Twenty Hispanic families with young children and adolescents were interviewed. Nine parish religious educators were interviewed including three pastors and six directors/coordinators of religious education. Parish observations included Eucharistic celebrations, annual processions and feast days, and parish sacramental processes. The study provides thick descriptions and portraits of the families, parish religious educators and faith communities to highlight myths, contemporary challenges and emerging opportunities. Some key findings that emerged from the study are as follows. Family unity was highly valued by the families interviewed and striving to foster family unity was a challenge for many. They acknowledged the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist as a family event. Families requested more family-centered and intergenerational parish processes and events since they noted that they were families that journey together. The study surfaced generational differences between first and second generation parents. For example, second generation mothers were less likely to see the good and beautiful in their places of residence and neighborhood. Parents wanted to introduce their children to their cultural heritage and language, yet, some were concerned that this could negatively impact their children. Families needed guidance on how family rituals, such as bedtime rituals, can evolve as their children grow and develop. Parents also sought guidance on 3 how evangelization and catechesis could occur with their spouses and other adult members of their families. Parish religious educators were striving to be inclusive of all families, those who were thriving and those at risk. They respected and integrated popular religion into the parish processes. Sacramental preparation processes were becoming more family-centered. Parish religious educators were advocates with families in diverse settings including their parishes, neighborhoods, schools, and social service agencies. The study also found that as parish religious educators partnered with families to provide more options and opportunities, it was difficult for some families to choose, perhaps, because having options was a new experience for them. The study recommends that parish religious educators partner with families to see and articulate in what ways religious education is manifested in their daily life, to guide families to discover their God-given gifts and talents, to discover meaningful service opportunities, to explore the role of arts in their lives, and to engage in justice issues. 1Vatican Council II. Lumen Gentium, November 24, 1964. no. 11. 2Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 204. En la Lucha [In the struggle] is a metaphor used by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz in her construction of Mujerista Theology. In this study, I seek to explore familias en la lucha [families in the struggle]. 3John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, November 22, 1981, no. 64.

Subject Area

Religious education|Hispanic Americans

Recommended Citation

Torres, Valerie, "Familias en la lucha: The religious educational journey of Hispanic families in New York City" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3312008.