NEW YORK – When Javier Bustamante worked in ministry he remembers many leaders in the Hispanic/Latino community that were great volunteers and parish workers, but oftentimes lacked the information their university-educated counterparts had to attain leadership roles.

Now expanding to a second diocese, the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative from Leadership Roundtable continues its quest to change that reality, as it works to help Latinos acquire the skills to reach higher leadership positions in the church.

“My personal hope is that through this program we will be meeting that need for formation, so that we can continue to close that gap,” Bustamante, an advisor to the program, told Crux. “And give current and future leaders of our Church the skills necessary to help our Church forward and continue to evangelize and work.”

Leadership Roundtable is an organization that promotes best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications, and human resources development of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the program got underway in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, under a new hybrid format that utilizes a combination of both in-person and remote activities. There are 22 participants that were chosen by Bishop Felipe Estévez to participate.

Alba Orozco, the diocese’s director of multicultural ministry, welcomes the program at a time when the number of Latinos in the community continues to grow. It’s important, she said, for people in leadership positions to “have had the same experiences that you lived,” and experienced “the trouble when you are a new arrival in the country and city.”

“We need to have more tools to be effective,” Orozco told Crux. “We have a lot of volunteers that don’t have the formation. Some come from third world countries that will depend on that leadership to put them in a better position.”

Over the course of 10-12 months the initiative puts participants through four separate programs.

The first is “Catholic Leadership 360,” which through an assessment develops a persona and identifies areas of opportunity and strengths of each participant. Then there’s the “Toolbox for Pastor Management” that provides pastors, clergy and laity tools to apply to everyday ministry.

The third program is “Catholic Standards for Excellence” for dioceses and parishes according to Canon Law, which is taught through six principles contained in a codebook developed by Leadership Roundtable. And the final program is peer group coaching monthly sessions.

“We want to equip [the participants] with more to enhance their capacity, their skills in church management and the promotion and emphasis of serving the Catholic Church in the United States,” Andrea Blanco, the manager of the program, told Crux.

Bustamante, who is the director of the Catholic University of America Center for Cultural Engagement, is one of the coaches that will work with one of the groups from the Diocese of St. Augustine. He said the peer group builds a sense of community within the program.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the group back together and talk about what they learned in the last session, follow-up with them in terms of are they on the path to achieve the goals that they set out for themselves,” Bustamante said.

Blanco also noted that the peer group coaching sessions are an opportunity to explore different ways to support the participants growth, as well as offer alternatives and different resources for them to use.

The Diocese of Joliet was the inaugural diocese of the initiative when it launched last Spring. However, the program looked different due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a remote format.

The 24 participants from the Illinois diocese will complete the program in November. From there, Bustamante said they’ll observe what impact it has on the diocese, hoping that “by empowering and equipping our leaders they’ll be in better positions to serve the church and their local communities.”

Blanco told Crux part of the impetus for the program was a recognition from Leadership Roundtable that Hispanic/Latinos often don’t have the support necessary to have an opportunity to transition to a leadership role. A lack of resources – both in general and bilingual – and a lack of budget are two reasons why, she said.

The goal after the Diocese of St. Augustine, Blanco said, is to continue to expand the program with national aspirations.

“The biggest impact we want to make is to see more Latinos in national executive positions in the United States,” Blanco said. “Not just working and serving as volunteers in the local communities and churches, but also to be a part of the big decision table where they can make decisions and be a part of the conversation.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg