Stressing the value of Catholic schools, leaders of the U.S. bishops called for greater outreach to underserved communities, to help them benefit from a faith-based education. “Welcoming more children from diverse populations in our Catholic schools, and particularly making an effort to reach out to underserved communities, is important for the future of Catholic schools and of our Church,” said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. Bishop Flores offered a presentation to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gathered in Baltimore Nov. 10 for its fall general assembly. He was joined by Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Neb, who heads the conference’s Catholic education committee. The two bishops stressed the importance of Catholics schools in providing “lasting faith formation, vocations to the religious life and priesthood, high educational attainments, and communities of the New Evangelization.” They encouraged outreach to underserved populations in order to help evangelize. Doing so, they said, benefits both the Church and the students. “The New Evangelization calls us to open up an inviting space where God's grace can take hold and bear fruit, to welcome the Spirit in ways that support conversion, touch the heart, and inspire,” Archbishop Lucas said. Because Catholic schools foster true communities, students are more engaged and able to achieve at higher levels, he said, pointing out that 99 percent of Catholic high school students graduate, and 87 percent of graduates go on to a four-year college. The archbishop pointed to findings by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that Latino and African American students at Catholic high schools and colleges are more likely to graduate. Bishop Flores called for particular outreach to the Latino community in the United States. In Latin America, he explained, there is no parish school system. Catholic schools “are usually private, and often unaffordable” to many families. “Parents do not know how to access the system, think it costs a lot of money and, without much further consideration, discard even the thought of inquiring” about Catholic schools in the U.S., the bishop said, stressing the need for bilingual staff members and cultural training to overcome these difficulties. Some progress has been made in this area, Bishop Flores said, pointing to statistics that the percentage of Latino children in U.S. Catholic schools has grown in recent years from 12.8 percent to 15 percent. “The needle is moving in the right direction, even if slowly,” he said.
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