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Ministering through the challenges and gifts of older adults of Hispanic heritage

POAMN hosts ‘Celebrating Longevity,’ the second of three webinars on diverse cultures and faith traditions

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Ida Rosario

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Ida Rosario has served as a commissioned lay pastor and an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament of Brentwood Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Long Island, New York, for 12 years. About a year before she joined the staff of BPC, Rosario was part of a group that worked to bring Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana, a Hispanic congregation of more recent immigrants, into partnership with Brentwood Presbyterian. The partnership between BPC and PIHP continues today. The Presbytery of Long Island, a Matthew 25 presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is committed to hunger relief, immigration ministries and youth outreach.

In the second of a three-part webinar series sponsored by the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN), Rosario shared some of the challenges that older adults of Hispanic heritage face. Some of these, she said, have come about as the result of differences among grandparents, parents and children being socialized to the norms of America to increasingly greater degrees in succeeding generations. She opened the webinar presentation with a bilingual prayer:

Almighty God,

Dios Todopoderoso,

We give you thanks for the beauty and gifts that are present in the diversity of your people.

Te damos gracias por la belleza y los dones que están presentes en la diversidad de tu gente.

Open our hearts and minds that we might know, understand, and love each other as Christ has loved us.

Abre nuestros corazones y mentes para que podamos conocernos, comprendernos y amarnos unos a otros como Cristo nos amó.

As we discuss the needs and contributions of older adults of Hispanic Heritage, may your Holy Spirit minister to participants that we might be united as one in love and ministry, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mientras discutimos las necesidades y contribuciones de los adultos mayores de la Herencia Hispana, permite que su Espíritu Santo ministre a los participantes para que podamos ser unido en amor y ministerio a través de Jesucristo nuestro Señor.



“Very often we think of Hispanics as being homogenized as one group,” Rosario said, “but the distinctions are great.”

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, Hispanic Americans included these origin groups: Mexican (60%), Puerto Rican (10%), Cuban (4%), Salvadoran (4%), Dominican (3.5%), Guatemalan (2.5%), Colombian (2%), Honduran (1.5%), Spaniard (1.5%), Equadorian (1%), Peruvian (1%), as well as many others.

In looking at the ratio of poverty by race and age, relative to total population, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2019 that the incidence of poverty for Black and Hispanic people was approximately twice that of the general population. These disparities were especially evident among children and adults 65 or older, according to the report.

Rosario discussed themes that are important to people of Hispanic heritage:

  • Needs of ‘family’ take precedence over individual needs
  • Mutual respect and trust-building
  • Respect for family hierarchy
  • Emphasis on meeting current priority needs
  • Maintaining spiritual connection

Hispanics are people of deep beliefs in God, prayer and the ability for there to be a real connection between the spiritual and the temporal in both positive and negative ways, said Rosario. “They do believe that God intervenes in answer to prayer. They also believe that there is a world of the spirit which includes angels that are serving at God’s direction. That there are good spirits and there are evil spirits.”

Regardless of which subgroup is being discussed, “family is of uttermost importance,” Rosario said. “You will find, quite frequently, that living arrangements are multigenerational — not just out of necessity, but out of choice. Within that arrangement, each one has a role to play, each one contributes to the well-being of the whole, and each one receives the benefits of all that is brought into that multigenerational living arrangement. It can be a source of great strength,” Rosario said.

“Unfortunately, in this time of COVID, it [multigenerational family living] was a reality that put our Hispanic community very much at risk because of the fact that it is so easy to spread COVID when people are living in close quarters and when there is difficulty to separate and isolate,” Rosario said.

These multigenerational living arrangements do not limit themselves to a bloodline of family relatives, she added. “Yes, there is the grandmother and the parents and the children, but often there is an aunt or an uncle who is single, or maybe a widowed person who has no children, who are also brought into the family.” It’s what is known as “familia de crianza,” which means you are “family because you were raised together.”

“It is that willingness to integrate into your family someone that is not a blood relative, who may have an immediate need, and therefore is welcomed in,” Rosario said. “I experienced it when I left my grandparents’ home to join my mother and we entered into the world of poverty. But I also found a home that was opened to us within a Puerto Rican-Hispanic family of 10 children, a mother and a father, who was a minister in one of those storefront churches. They welcomed my mother and I, just as part of the family. That’s where I learned to speak Spanish and read and write all over again.”

How can we, as people of faith, minister to some of the needs of older Hispanic adults?

  • Provide communication in English and Spanish
    It is also crucial to use trusted access points with which to deliver the communications, being respectful and sensitive to family structure/hierarchy/lines of authority.
  • Support Hispanic outreach ministries
    By working together to have a presence in the community, outreach such as bilingual health fairs and workshops for senior adults can be offered, providing education and information about available resources.
  • Support mission churches and their leaders
    By networking with other churches working directly to advocate for Hispanic families in the community translation, transportation, financial assistance, health services and other needs can be met.
  • Support the caregivers in the home
    Caregivers need care too. They may need training, help with money management/financial budgeting, help with insurance forms and assistance in unraveling the complexity of government programs. They need support groups and assistance in connecting to resources. They need people to understand and encourage them through prayer and action. In 2018, 42% of money spent on caregiving was spent by Hispanic-Latino families, who comprised about one-quarter of all caregivers in the U.S. that year.
  • Support development and accessibility of community resources
    Churches can become aware of resources available in the community and maintain a list of these resources and have them available, so that when those who trust you come and have a need, you can be the one to connect them to the resources they need, such as community health services.

“Because Hispanic Americans tend to stay in communities of their own culture, especially in the generations that have first come here, they are able to still appreciate the values, the celebrations, the customs that are theirs,” Rosario said. “But as you begin the acculturation process and you start moving toward ‘the dream,’ the American dream for which your parents and your grandparents and your ancestors have come here, sometimes part of that gets lost.”

Sometimes the effects of achieving the dream, of this upward mobility that is so wanted for the children, can leave these senior adults in a difficult place.

“Señora Lupe called our church. Her mother had died,” Rosario said. “She was alone, she had no children. Community had disappeared around her. She called and said, ‘Is there a church that cares?’ Luckily, we were able to, even though she lived only for a short period of time.”

“I pray that you might continue to have that open heart to be willing to discover who we are and how we can live together, care for each other and receive the blessings that each of us brings to the family of God,” Rosario said.

The three webinars in the Celebrating Longevity Around the World series are being offered in partnership with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Christian Formation. The third webinar, “Korean Milestones,” will take place at noon Eastern Time on May 7 and will be available in English, Spanish and Korean. Register for the next webinar here. The webinars are being recorded and links to the recordings will be available soon.

POAMN was formed in the 1980s to raise awareness around ministry for and with older adults. POAMN’s mission is educating and equipping leadership in aging congregations to promote and engage in activities, wellness, care and social involvement in covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Christian Formation.

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