By Celine Klosterman
As Census forms are being mailed out this month, some parishes in the Davenport Diocese are working to ensure harder-to-reach populations are counted.
Catholic leaders in Ottumwa have been promoting the Census for months, said Sister Irene Muñoz, CHM, multicultural minister for the Ottumwa area. She and Father Bernie Weir, pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish, which has a large Hispanic population, have announced during Mass the importance and security of the Census and distributed information in bulletins. “We’re really stressing the confidentiality of it,” Sr. Muñoz said. Undocumented immigrants often are uncomfortable sharing any personal information or even having their photo taken, she said.
The Census asks 10 questions including the number of people living in a household, each one’s name, date of birth, age, sex and race. The form does not ask respondents’ immigration or citizenship status. Legally, the Census Bureau can’t share respondents’ answers with anyone, including other government agencies. Employees take an oath of nondisclosure, and violating it could result in a fine or prison, according to the Census Web site.
Occasionally, a parishioner voices some hesitancy about the Census, Sr. Muñoz said. But she emphasized the value of participating, saying an accurate count could result in more federal funding for Ottumwa schools and hospitals. “I think it’ll really help our community if everyone gets on board,” she said.
Census information helps determine how more than $400 billion of federal money is spent on infrastructure and social services. The data also affect how many U.S. representatives each state has.
In a reflection of the Census’ importance, the U.S. bishops have partnered with the Census Bureau to encourage participation and to reach hard-to-count communities.
In the Davenport Diocese, all Hispanic ministers met with Census representatives and received Spanish-language flyers and posters to help promote participation, said Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
Sister Jane McCarthy, OSF, pastoral associate at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, said the parish would distribute those flyers and make an announcement at Mass about the Census.
At St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty, a Census representative spoke at a Spanish Mass in January. Father Dennis Martin, pastor, said that because Census forms are in the process of being mailed out, a parishioner was slated to announce during Mass March 7 the importance of participating.
Father Joseph Sia, parochial vicar for Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, said he joined the Muscatine County Complete Count Committee to help “get the word out” about the Census. Rosa Mendoza of the Diversity Service Center of Iowa in Muscatine spoke on the topic during a Sunday Mass in January, and posters and bulletin announcements also have encouraged filling out the Census. On March 21, an informational session about the Census will take place after 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass at St. Mary Church in Muscatine.
“I see the importance of the Census and the benefits it can bring to our local community and in the long term, the children,” Fr. Sia said. “We’re encouraging people to look toward the future… if we’re counted now, the benefits will come.”