The Hispanic/Latino rite of passage is an important moment in a young Latina’s life. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describe the quinceañera as,
“a traditional celebration of life and gratitude to God on the occasion of the fifteenth birthday of a young Hispanic woman. The ritual emphasizes her passage from childhood to adulthood.”
This cultural tradition is facing some challenges, in its new context, the United States.
Bureaucracy is driving Catholics away from the Church
One of the biggest complaints that I hear from Latino Catholics is the level of bureaucracy present in parish programs and offices. Latino parents often take time off from work as parish office hours do not accommodate for working families. They face litigious rules, paperwork and run around in circles trying to meet procedures. Here are some examples:
- Parents must present the young girl’s sacramental certificates prior to scheduling the Mass/Blessing;
- Parishes issuing sacramental certificates take forever to produce them, causing Latino families to take multiple days off work to obtain documentation to present to parish staff;
- The family must be a registered parishioner and regularly tithe;
- The Quinceañera must enroll in the 2 year catechetical or confirmation program before scheduling the Mass/Blessing.
Why are we making it so difficult to celebrate the coming of age of young women? This is not a sacrament, so why do Latino families have to jump through so many hoops? Sometimes, families must request documents from countries outside the United States, and it can take some time to receive them. For undocumented families, there is also hesitancy to fill out forms or leave any documentation. As pastoral agents, we must be sensitive to the realities of our Latino families and adapt our parish hours, policies and procedures accordingly to make it a more welcoming environment.
We are monopolizing a cultural rite of passage
Many parishes and dioceses across the United States require quinceañeras to enroll in confirmation programs. The justification is that they need to get them into programs so that they receive the sacrament and formation. Otherwise, they will never get them. I need to ask parish staff the following questions:
Why are young people not coming to formation programs? Does the schedule meet their needs? Are homilies/programs geared toward young people? Are the programs vibrant and exciting and youth centered or are you just reading textbooks and the catechism? Are your programs culturally appropriate to the diverse Hispanic population? How much do your programs cost? Do you offer scholarships? Are families aware that there are scholarships?
Perhaps parish leadership should look within rather than monopolizing a cultural tradition and forcing young people into programs. I have heard of many Catholic families switching parishes or even leaving the faith to protestant churches because of these requirements. Latino families also complain that they must pay up front for the two-year confirmation program. Some of these programs cost hundreds of dollars and families are required to enroll and pay for these programs prior to scheduling the Mass or blessing.
The other concern with forcing young women into catechetical programs is that it is unintentionally sexist. When you are only forcing Latina young women into your catechetical programs, how do you ensure that young Latino men, as well as other Catholic young women and men from all ethnicities, participate in your catechetical programs? Targeting young Latinas just because they happen to show up asking for a blessing or a Mass is unjust and will not solve your overall participation program.
Dioceses across the United States have various policies and I will discuss several of them in part two of this article and highlight some of the best practices. Moreover, our U.S. Bishops recommend the following formation,
“The quinceañera and the fifteen teens who form part of her celebration could be asked to participate in a day of retreat or in one or several sessions of preparation with talks, activities and prayer, together with the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, prior to the date of the celebration. The focus on the positive contribution of women in society, as well as their becoming active participants in the life of the parish, can also be emphasized. They may be encouraged to take a more active part in the various parish ministries.”
None of this suggests a required two-year catechetical/confirmation program in order to receive the Quinceañera blessing. As parish leaders, we should view the retreat and formation class as an incredible opportunity to invite young women to enroll in our catchetical/formation programs and youth ministry programs, but it should not be forced. If our programs are engaging, dynamic, and affordable, they will want to be there.
What should quinceañera formation programs include then? Alejandro Barraza, Director of Hispanic Ministry at the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico advises,
“It is believed that this rite of passage meant that a young woman was ready to bear children and be fully a part of society, of course this is not something that we endorse or think is healthy for women. In today’s American society, women are still not achieving their full potential and, unfortunately, young Hispanic women continue to be underrepresented when it comes to high paying jobs, High School completion, and college attendance, when compared to other ethnic communities in our country. La Quinceañera is the perfect moment to see the true value and potential of women in our Catholic communities. It should serve as a challenge for our many pastoral ministries to meet these young people and challenge them to be greater then the moment. With good formation, young women can learn to see the good in themselves, and the potential they have once they reach the age of maturity.”
This vision provides a fantastic opportunity for a young Latina woman to explore her potential in our world, community and faith life. Developing leaders in our communities and promoting education should be an essential component of Quinceañera formation.
Are you looking for a great resource to use in your quinceañera formation program or retreat?
 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fifteen Questions On The Quinceanera. Accessed from http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/quinceanera/fifteen-questions-on-the-quinceanera.cfm