El Norte

It must be difficult for someone from the deserts of Durango or the jungles of Chiapas to get used to the Windy City. While Chicago’s winds and snowstorms can be brutal, the weather has not stopped thousands of Mexicans from journeying north to find work. Only Los Angeles has more residents from Mexico and Latin America. Entire Chicago neighborhoods have rapidly transformed into Spanish-speaking enclaves, and it seems inevitable that Latinos will outnumber African Americans before long.

If all Latinos suddenly returned to their countries of origin, the hotel and restaurant business, the landscaping and gardening industry, and janitor and cleaning services would grind to a halt. Chicago would survive, but it would be a very different place.

Most of the new arrivals are young and Catholic. In 1956, when I visited the old detention center for illegal immigrants on Indiana Avenue, I found that the young men there were baptized and quite devout, but many had not made their first Holy Communion and had almost no understanding of their religion. The detention center, where they were held before deportation, seemed a strange place to make one’s first confession and Communion. It seemed to me that the Catholic Church in Mexico was not doing a good job of catechesis and spiritual formation. At the same time, the Archdiocese of Chicago was totally unprepared for the arrival of thousands of Catholics looking for...

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About the Author

The Reverend Willard F. Jabusch is chaplain emeritus of the University of Chicago.