More than 200 Hispanic professional and community lay leaders from across the country, as well as notable clergy — including the archbishops of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Lima, Peru — attended the eighth annual conference of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders Aug. 22-25 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.Titled “Building a Culture of Faith” — in keeping with Pope Emeritus Benedict’s declaration of a Year of Faith from Oct. 11, 2012 through Nov. 24, 2013 — this year’s CALL conference featured many renowned guest speakers addressing a variety of timely issues facing the modern-day Church, including bioethics, religious liberty, the new evangelization, the definition of marriage, and the importance of faith in the lives of Catholics living in an increasingly secular world.“Faith matters because hope and love [alone] can’t bear the weight of the suffering in the world without it,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, in his presentation, “Why Faith Matters: Belief as a Cornerstone of What It Means to Be Human.”“Faith matters because it reminds us that there’s good in the world, and meaning to every life, and that the things that make us human are worth fighting for,” said Archbishop Chaput. “Faith matters because it drives us to do what’s right.”In their own drive to do just that, Archbishop Chaput and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez helped co-launch CALL in 2007 with the goal of creating a professional organization that would support American Hispanic Catholic leaders, particularly in light of increasingly bleak statistics concerning Catholic Latinos in the U.S.For example, American Latinos are leaving the Church “at a sobering rate,” said Archbishop Chaput. While almost 70 percent of foreign-born Hispanics are Catholic, only 40 percent of third-generation Hispanics in the U.S. identify as Catholic. In addition, the abortion rate among Latinas is currently higher than the national average, and Hispanic support for same-sex marriage rose from 31 percent to 52 percent between 2006 and 2012.“In some ways, the Hispanic social and political profile is barely distinguishable from American national trends,” said Archbishop Chaput. “As a nation, Americans pay lip service to God on our coinage while forcing Him out of our public life everywhere else. And in God’s place we’ve created an avalanche of empty choices … that promise to feed our inner hungers and do nothing but starve us.”However, Archbishop Chaput reassured conference goers, an “immense reservoir of goodness and hope still resides in the world. We need to remember that and act on it.”“[We launched CALL] to help Latino leaders renew the heart of an America that has become more and more confused, and more and more remote from its founding ideals,” he continued. “All of you here today are a testimony to what we hoped to accomplish. If CALL helps you strengthen each other in your Catholic faith and in your vocation as Christian leaders, then God will use it, and use you, to bring new life to our nation.”Catholics & biotechnologyNikolas Nikas, president and CEO of the Bioethics Defense Fund, launched his presentation — “What Every Catholic Should Know About the Brave New World of Biotechnology” — with a warning: “The brave new world [of biotechnology] is not on the horizon; it’s here right now.”“I’m not saying that all modern medicine or science is evil,” he said. “In fact, most of it is good. Most of it does help the common good. Lives are saved, people are cured, sometimes symptoms are alleviated, and even the dying are cared for. But we understand that there are limits to technology and even healthcare. The limits are what’s possible, but also what’s moral. Medicine can be misused.”Some examples of modern-day misuses of medicine and/or biotechnology found around the globe include assisted suicide, utilizing abortion for sex selection, artificial reproductive technology/surrogacy, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. These all have serious moral implications, stressed Nikas.Regarding artificial reproductive technology, he said he often encounters people of all faiths and walks of life who ask him what could be morally objectionable about, for example, helping an infertile couple conceive a baby?The problem, he explains, isn’t the end result — a couple welcoming a child — but rather the process, and the loss of life (at least from a Catholic/moral perspective) that goes hand-in-hand with this type of reproductive journey. Current estimates indicate that there between 400,000 and 500,000 frozen human embryos in storage at fertility clinics across the U.S. — all “by-products” of in vitro fertilization (IVF).As part of the IVF process, doctors harvest multiple eggs per cycle from a female patient. The eggs are then artificially fertilized with sperm to become embryos, which are subsequently “graded” to determine their quality. In many cases, numerous embryos are implanted to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, and “excess” embryos that are not used are either discarded or frozen indefinitely.“These are the unintended consequences of commodification,” said Nikas.He quoted C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Abolition of Man,” which states: “What we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercise by some men over other men, with nature as its instrument.”“That’s always the truth: the powerful and the strong use technology at the expense of the weak,” said Nikas. “We have to resist this with all that we have.”For CALL member Ana Becerra, a physician’s assistant in private practice in Burbank, the conference reiterated the importance of her own personal role in “spreading the word of our Catholic faith to the Latino population.”“It’s not just about what the Church can do, it’s about what we as individuals can do to pass on our faith, [to] touch just one person and get them to come back to the Church,” said Becerra, adding that she believes in “teaching by example.”“How I behave is also going to pass on the faith, because if I act in a Christian manner and people see me this way, they can learn by my example,” she said.Natasha Bisbal, a columnist for Nuestra Voz, the Spanish language monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, described the conference as an educational “growing experience,” both professionally and personally. Her goal is to take what she’s learned and incorporate the lessons into both her work and her community.CALL is a national organization dedicated to the growth and spiritual formation of Latino leaders in the U.S. through prayer, education and service. CALL has 15 active chapters across the country, including Los Angeles, with additional chapters currently under formation in Ventura, Orange County and Washington, D.C.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0830/callmain/{/gallery}