Opinion: Albert Cutié: Preaching the Latino gospel in the United States
Albert Cutié says politicians -- like Florida Governor Rick Scott, center -- strategically reach out to Latinos. But do churches?
December 30th, 2011
01:52 PM ET

Opinion: Albert Cutié: Preaching the Latino gospel in the United States

Editor's note: Albert Cutié is an Episcopal priest and former Roman Catholic priest known as Padre Alberto or "Father Oprah." He is the author of the memoir, "Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love" and hosted the talk show "Father Albert."

By Fr. Albert Cutié, Special to CNN

In South Florida, every time a politician at the state or federal level aspires to attract the Latino vote, they come to a famous landmark restaurant on Little Havana’s Southwest Eighth Street. It’s called Versailles, and they come to drink the infamous cafecito, a Cuban-style espresso that is served at a window counter in front of the restaurant. It’s designed for those who prefer to stand outside and talk about world news and politics, rather than sitting down in a comfortable, air-conditioned cafe.

Regardless of what party or political inclination these people represent, getting acquainted with the Miami community begins with drinking the famous miniature cup of coffee and talking to folks who have made it part of their daily routine for decades. In the world of politics, there is no doubt that reaching Latinos - the largest minority in the United States - has become a priority for most. Yet, when it comes to many churches, especially our mainstream religious communities in the United States, I often wonder if we’ve truly started to make a sincere effort at reaching out to Latinos effectively?

According to the latest census, there are now more than 50 million Latinos in the United States. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, an overwhelming 68% of all Latinos say that religion is “very important” and most are un-churched, meaning that they are not regularly attending any particular church service on Sundays.

In my 25 years of experience as a seminarian, deacon and priest, every time I’ve listened to those in the process of assimilating and making the transition to life in our country, one of the things they claim is that they have little or no time for worship or religious practice. This is mostly due to the fact that their greatest concern is work and getting ahead - not just for themselves, but for their family members back home. Only after Latinos reach a certain level of stability in the United States do they begin to seek a church family and a congregation that will embrace them.

I believe all houses of worship would be much more attractive to this explosive demographic if religious leaders began to preach the Latino gospel. By this, I mean that we must make the effort to really address the issues that are sacred and important to Latinos, not just religiously, but socially. Many Latinos will tell you that they prefer a pastor, priest or religious leader that understands their culture, even more than a leader who can speak their language. I have witnessed and been impressed by this dynamic so many times. Often, a clergy person that is sensitive and demonstrates true interest is so much more effective than someone who speaks the language, yet ignores the culture.

I suggest that sensitivity to the core values of the Latino community and a desire to address their basic needs is what really attracts this growing minority to embrace a church family. I know many denominations are actively working on ways to reach out and offer services in Spanish. For instance, the Episcopal Church in the United States has a growing Latino population and has developed a strategic vision for reaching Latinos. There are countless others that are developing similar methods of outreach, and that’s a good place to start.

Yet, preaching this Latino gospel has to do with being familiar with the answers to some basic questions all religious leaders and communities must understand as essential: What do Latinos value most? What rules and social norms do they live by? What are needs and deepest desires of Latinos as a group? What are the things that might attract them to a religious congregation or deter them from even coming in the door?

One very telling survey revealed by the National Council La Raza in July said that immigration was the top issue on the minds of Latinos.

The economy and education were second to the ongoing immigration saga. It’s a striking difference between Latinos and others, who are overwhelmingly concerned about the economy, healthcare and other social issues; immigration is the least of their worries. I am sure Latinos tend to see immigration issues as directly connected to the terrible consequences of deportation and family separation. This is why most Latinos continue to see immigration as their top issue.

As a Latino who has worked with diverse Latino communities for years, I’ve seen more evidence that points to four core values that influence every aspect of life, including church or religious affiliation.

La familia: Above all else, Latinos expect churches to offer programs to enhance their marriages and families - activities that will strengthen the spiritual and overall welfare of all things family. It is equally important to remember that for most people in this demographic, family is also a lot more than the nuclear family – it also includes grandparents and others.

La fe: When it comes to religious faith, Latinos seek symbols, religious language, expressions of popular piety, basic doctrines, biblical teachings and a practical understanding of their relationship with God. They want to understand church as a community they can belong to, not just as an “institution.” That explains why Latinos are embracing non-traditional forms of Christianity and new religious expressions at a faster rate than other minorities.

Tradiciones: Folklore, food and cultural customs are very much part of the Latino ethos and everyday life. Special holidays and even birthday celebrations - like the popular debutante ball, the Quincieañera, which is often initiated by a blessing or full service at a church - are among the traditions that are most revered and continue to be honored among Latinos. All of these celebrations have their own unique rituals, food, music and styles, depending what region of Latin America or the Caribbean the particular community comes from. Invite God and spirituality into them.

Servicio: Latinos like to get involved and be hands-on. If a church building needs to be painted, if something needs to be fixed or if there’s a need for fundraising, they are often the first to volunteer their time and resources. But Latinos are not accustomed to making generous weekly contributions to their houses of worship because of cultural practices and government-supported churches in many Latin American countries. The mentality is often “The church will always be there,” and it is a real challenge for religious leaders to teach the American concept of regular and consistent giving and tithing to one’s religious community.

Reaching out to Latinos in America will continue to be a major challenge for both traditional and newer religious groups, but I believe it’s a good place to start by just asking the question: Does your house of worship speak the Latino gospel? It’s a lot more than just a language.

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Filed under: Latino in America • Religion • What we think
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Jon

    No such thing as a "former priest." However, as Farther Cutie has made obvious, there is such a thing as a priest who can break his vows, which is equivalent to adultery in a marriage. How such a person could be seen as someone that should be looked up to is beyond me. He should be ashamed. This site is a joke for publishing anything other than an apology from him.

    January 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      Once again, you ignore what I actually said, which was that I found the site interesting but couldn't speak to its validity.

      What evidence do you have that Hispanics are inherently more murderous than any other group?

      January 10, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Spence

    Considering the murderous nature of the Latino, Mexican, Spanish (generally) cultures, I'm not surprised they need a whole new "gospel" to live their murderous lives by.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      Racist is not a word I use much... seems appropriate here, however.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
      • Spence

        I guess Lynn hasn't been keeping up with the news on South of the Border murders and the general drug cartel activity on both sides of the border. It's not racist to make an accurate observation. And besides, what "Race" are people of Spanish descent? Think again Lynn, we are all of the same race or we wouldn't be able to procreate with each other. Racism is a political word that has no real meaning in the 21st Century.

        January 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • Lynn

        I've felt a lot more at risk in the US than I have in many places in Mexico or in Latin America in general. Don't like the work racist? How about the word bigot?

        January 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
      • Spence

        That's better, Lynn. Bigot would be a better word if the observation would have been false. But since it's accurate then you have to look at your own motivation to hate America so much. If you "feel" something, it doesn't make it meaningful or even accurate. I'm a little sick and tired of all you people that are putting your "feelings" ahead of reality. If you "feel safer" in Mexico then why don't you live there? Isn't that kind of dishonest of you to live in America and then hate it so much?

        January 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
      • Lynn

        Hate America?! Now you're really off the wall. However did you arrive at that conclusion?

        I do not believe that Hispanics are any more (or any less) inherently violent than any other group. There are a number of countries, including in Latin America, where the crime rate is lower than it is in the US. Mexico does indeed have a problem with violence related to drug trafficking; however, I have traveled some in Mexico and have never felt at risk for other than petty theft. Check out http://www.nationmaster.com/compare/Mexico/United-States/Crime for comparative statistics... I can't speak for the validity of the site, but it is interesting.

        January 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • Spence

        That's all very nice Lynn, but why would you be listening from some Australian dude with his own little .com website? What are Luke Metcalfe's qualifications to be posting whatever he is posting? Do you just believe everything you read on the Internet?

        I'm curious what makes you think that the crime rates in Mexico and the US are even reported similarly? Do you use oranges in your recipes when the recipes recommends using tomato paste?

        Your dissing America is pretty obvious. You are willing to accept whatever nonsense any anti-American knucklehead is saying. It's pretty obvious that you have a real affection for those that hate this country.

        January 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      You apparently didn't read my comment very well... I said the site was interesting but that I couldn't speak for its validity. My impression is that you are more interested in denigrating what you see as my anti-american feelings than in discussing the issue, which is actually Father Cutie or, perhaps, a Latino flavored Gospel.

      Or, perhaps you're just interesting in Latino-bashing. Do you have any evidence that Hispanics are more "murderous "
      than any other group?

      January 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
      • Spence

        Well, Lynn, the Internet is much like popular religion. You can always find exactly what you want to hear and then call it research. Congratulations.

        January 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erick

      Spence- are you related to Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer?

      January 11, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
      • Lynn

        Your comment is way out of line. You're doing exactly;y what he did in denigrating the person rather than addressing the content (such as it is).

        January 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Patricksday

    God Bless this Holy Man who had the courage to walk away from Hypocrits. I witnessed the cruelty of those old Irish Priests who shamed and scolded humble Latinos and treated them with disrespect, drunk with their own Catholic Management Power, they can take pride in the number of faithful they drove away from their own hatred, while pretending to be Followers of Jesus, "the closest thing in the community to Jesus", while they betrayed children entrusted to them.

    January 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnB

      So misguided this approach.... Catholics are not the only ones at fault. We can add University faculties, Baptists, Episcopalians, psychiatric and hospital staff, and lets not forget parents and other family members. I knew Alberto in seminary and the only interests he is truly interested in serving is his own. We should never put our interests in people, but only follow God in our faith using whichever faith system we choose.

      January 10, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Hey "Patricksday" you spelt hypocrite wrong. You spelt it h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-s, which is NOT the correct spelling. See, if you are going to slam Catholics, make sure you spell all your words correctly or you will look incredibly silly. Have a nice day.

      January 10, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
      • Lynn

        Perhaps you could address the content of his comment, rather than merely his spelling.

        January 10, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. liza

    Latinos came here to be AMERICANS. Why are they still being Cubans in the country they purposly moved too? If they want to be Cubans go back home, if they want to be Americans, get off their butts and embrace all we have given them and become Americans. No American church should be asked to give up their country and pander to some group who refuses to embrace the country that feeds and takes care of them. Latinos freeload off our system then thumb their noses at us. Some church, some pitiful example of Americans. Yes, this is bigoted but, so is this article against America and an insult to our country and countrymen. I make no apologies. I am not a bagger but a progressive and this still makes me mad. It's an insult to all tax paying Americans.

    January 8, 2012 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      Insulting to Americans? Nonsense... it's no more insulting than the Norwegian church in my neighborhood that has services in Norwegian and celebrates Santa Lucia.

      January 8, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Didi

      I'm Hispanic and American, just like many Americans are proud to be Irish-American, Italian-American and German-American. I don't understand people like you, Liza. You do understand that this country was founded by immigrants, right? For you to assert that Hispanics "must get off their butts" is an extremely uneducated and bigoted statement to make. We are Americans and this is how we are Americans. We pay taxes too, we go to college and we vote. Deal with it.

      As far as Padre Alberto, I'm an atheist. I thought it was funny that he had a lover when he was a Catholic priest. Baby steps to free yourself from religious nonsense that tells you to be miserable in life for absolutely nothing.

      January 10, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. kamana kapu

    The first and most important questions asked of these religionists is "WHY CAN'T GODS BE SEEN, HEARD, OR TOUCHED?" After millions and millions of years, still no answer! Yet the answer is a very simple one: there are no such things as gods.

    January 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. deguy

    Yes, I found the story: check this out – he doesnt have children, but he's been fooling around with women: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1896581,00.html

    January 7, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      If you read the story you linked to, you would note that he was seen "fooling around" with ONE woman... a woman he later married and with whom he has a child.

      January 7, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. deguy

    Isn't this priest the one who was found out to have a family and children in Florida, the result of an illicit affair ?

    January 7, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Lynn


      January 7, 2012 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Pisces

      He left the Catholic church because he was having an affair, which goes against its doctrines. He's an idiot who just wanted to be on TV. Had he been short, ugly, bald and fat, he would have been crucified. But he's tall, handsome, white and green- eyed, so he was forgiven by his fans.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
      • paullubbock

        LOL, I was thinking the same thing. It is amazing how much people are willing to forgive or condemn by being their own judges of man based on appearance.

        January 10, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
      • Lynn

        I don't know....Cain's supporters seemed willing to forgive a lot.

        January 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Deacon Mario

    We are very blessed to have Father Albert in The Episcopal Church, especially with his communication skills and preaching ability. What he says in this commentary about the Latino Gospel is important for all religious communities that are interested in serving the entire community. Latinos are here to stay.

    December 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • liza

      Then they can become Americans if they want to stay, or go home. This is NOT Cuba. If we moved to Cuba we would have to do as the Cubans to. They expect us to bend over backward for them? We didn't invite them here, they came here because they wanted to. Be Americans!

      January 8, 2012 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
      • Didi

        Actually, Cubans were invited here and still are. Look up their unique immigration laws and compared to other immigrant groups. You forget that many Hispanics already are American Citizens and proud of it.

        January 10, 2012 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
      • Ericbrett

        Liza- you really have no idea what it means to be an American. This is a country of immigrants. Most people celebrate their heritage within the confines of their communities. Europeans, Asians, Africans, etc. I suggest you get out and explore this beautiful country and realize that its greatness is in its diversity. The rhertoric that you are espousing is utter nonsense. I feel sorry for you...you will be on the wrong side of history when all is said and done. Wake up!

        January 10, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |

    MILLIONS TO BE ASSASSINATED FOR THE SAKE OF $$$ LIABILITIES(mk-ultra, chip implants, electroshocks etc. performed on them) AND NEW WORLD ORDER(multiculturalism = terrorism) POLITICAL AGENDA KNOWN AS "YOU ARE NEXT"(financial liabilities are 2 expensive for the government and it is cheaper to get read of you instead) !!! IF YOU WERE TREATED WITH ELECTROSHOCKS OR DRUGS USED FOR WIPING OUT MEMORY(numerous Americans and Europeans were and are) AFTER ENDURING FORCED CHIP IMPLANTS(or to simply rethard individual), YOU ARE SCHEDULED AT 100% RATE AS GOOD TO GO NEXT(where do you think all homeless people come from or rather who/how creates them !!?) !!!






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    December 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      This post had nothing to do with the article and should not have been posted here.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Santiago Rodriguez

    Interesting post. I mosty agree with the take. I probably would not call it Latino gospel. I would call it the Gospel Latin style. Semantics. But in complete agreement with the purpose of the message. Thanks.

    December 31, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |