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Judge Nelson Diaz (left) and Rev. Luis Cortés (right) are two of the many local Latino leaders who are excited to see the first Latino Archbishop in Philadelphia history, Archbishop Nelson Pérez (center). 
Judge Nelson Diaz (left) and Rev. Luis Cortés (right) are two of the many local Latino leaders who are excited to see the first Latino Archbishop in Philadelphia history, Archbishop Nelson Pérez (center). 

Leading Philadelphia’s Catholic Church into a new age: Reactions to new Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez

Many Latinos in the city have high hopes for the first Latino Archbishop in Philadelphia’s history.

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Nelson Pérez’s installment as the first Latino Archbishop of Philadelphia last month was historic in many ways.

For one, it saw him return to the city in which he started his priesthood more than 30 years ago — in Saint Ambrose Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. 

It was there that Judge Nelson Diaz first met the new Philadelphia Archbishop. 

“He has always been very loved by the Hispanic community within the Catholic church,” Diaz said of Pérez. 

He highlighted how when Pérez left Saint Ambrose for Saint Williams Parish in 2002, a large portion of the Latino population followed him. 

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, about 55% of Latino adults in the United States, which constitutes about 19.6 million people, identify themselves as Catholic. 

Secondly, Pérez’s installment adds another Latino to a small, but growing, list of Latino archbishops in the nation. 

The United States now has three Latino Archbishops simultaneously for the first time in history. Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gómez and San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller are the others. 

Archbishop Pérez’s return to Philadelphia comes at a critical time for the Catholic Church, particularly for the Harrisburg Diocese, which recently filed for bankruptcy following child abuse claims. 

“As a community, we’re overjoyed,” said Rev. Luis Cortés, founder, president & CEO of Esperanza. “And we welcome him back.”

He added that during his previous time in Philadelphia, Pérez often worked with religious groups to help make neighborhoods across the city better. 

Given Archbishop Pérez’s own background — born in Miami to Cuban parents who left Cuba during the Fidel Castro regime — his approach will likely be one in which he can relate to a larger portion of the Latino community here. 

“I think it’s a great, great opportunity for us to have someone who understands and can speak with a voice that is important with regard to some of the struggles of the Latino community here in Philadelphia,” said Diaz.

The outlook for Perez’s impact in not only the 1.3 million members of the Catholic church in the region, but also for the Latino community and the community at large is very optimistic. 

“We’re very proud that a Philadelphia Hispanic can come back to lead the church into a new age,” said Cortés. 

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