Clearly, though, Hispanics are transforming U.S. Catholic life. Anyone who has participated in a charismatic renewal event or has taken a cursillo (short course in Christianity) is a witness to the growing Hispanic influence. They are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Catholic population and should be a sizable majority by mid-century. In addition to the growing Spanish Masses across the country, they are injecting U.S. Catholicism with pilgrimages, processions, rituals, popular piety, social activism and a conviction that faith needs to be expressed emotionally and dynamically.

“Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century” and “Latino Catholicism” outline the challenges, complexities and controversies facing a U.S. institutional church formed and led by English-speaking European descendents as it strives for religious unity while acknowledging a mushrooming cultural diversity. The books speak of Hispanic ministry in terms of multiple strategies, approaches and visions to reach the multidimensional Hispanic population.

While both overlap in themes, “Hispanic Ministry” is more for lay and clerical ministers. It is a collection of six essays – each in English and Spanish – developed from a series of talks by Hispanic ministry experts at a 2009 symposium. It looks to the future, stressing what needs to be done based on where Hispanic Catholicism is now.

“Latino Catholicism” provides more historical context and perspective on how the situation got to where it is. Timothy Matovina, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, offers a crash course on Hispanic Catholics and their impact. The book’s chapter on the importance of popular religiosity in Hispanic worship and devotion – and the controversies it causes in multiethnic parishes – is especially good.

Both books excellently frame issues, problems and the evolving institutional church’s attitudes and activities toward the growing Hispanic population. Neither claims to have the answers in this dynamic, still fluid situation.

One of the key controversies the books deal with is whether new immigrants should be assimilated or integrated into U.S. society and church. Assimilation refers to the “melting pot” image used with previous immigration waves where the aim was to blend them into a homogeneous unity with native-born citizens. Integration uses a “stewing pot” symbol where immigrants add their flavor to the mix while retaining their cultural and ethnic individuality.

Another hot button issue discussed is comprehensive immigration reform, including a possible path to legalized residency for people who entered illegally. This is supported by many church officials and large segments of the Hispanic community, but also has its critics.

The books also delve into the successful and aggressive evangelical Protestant proselytizing among Hispanics; the very low percentage of Hispanics in lay and ordained ministry in comparison to their percentage of the Catholic population; and the communitarian dimension of Hispanic Catholicism which often overflows into social and political action.

A major fault is the lack of detailed discussion of the gang phenomenon and its devastating effects on Hispanic youths. The issue is mentioned in both books but never developed.

The starting point of the books is Hispanic perspectives on issues. But they also elaborate on the criticisms and controversies swirling around these topics so that readers clearly know that situations are still in flux and far from resolved.

Bono, a retired CNS staff writer, covered Hispanic affairs.