Benedict XVI Is in Brazil. But Meanwhile, the "Latinos" Are Invading the North
The United States is now fifth among the nations with the highest Latin American population. A survey by the Pew Forum on an emigration movement that is changing the face of Catholicism in the leading country in the West
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, May 9, 2007 (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it) – Benedict XVI's visit to Brazil is his first, as pope, beyond the world that seems to be most his own: Europe and the West.
But the boundaries between Latin America and the northern hemisphere are no longer so clear. With 37 million Hispanic immigrants, the United States is now the fourth nation in the world – and soon will be the fourth – by Latin American population, after Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, and ahead of all the other countries in Central and South America. One out of every three Catholics in the United States comes from Latin America, speaks Spanish or Portuguese, and prefers to attend churches where there are other faithful from the South.
Furthermore, almost half of the Hispanic immigrants in the United States identify themselves as Charismatics, exactly as in their countries of origin. And this is perceptibly changing the religious landscape in the United States, and also in regard to the Catholic Church. The Latin Americans are not only revolutionizing the numbers, but they are changing the way in which Catholicism is lived in the leading country in the West.
A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life, published in the United States on the eve of Benedict XVI's trip to Brazil, is the first in-depth study of this powerful transformation, which will have repercussions on the future of Catholicism worldwide.
Here are the essential results, point by point:
RELIGION AND DEMOGRAPHY
More than two thirds of the "Latinos" in the United States, 68 percent, are Catholic. And of these, 28 percent describe themselves as Charismatics, a proportion that rises to 70 percent among the immigrants of Protestant faith.
The highest proportion of Catholics is found among the immigrants from Mexico. The Protestants are more numerous among those who come from Puerto Rico. Those without any religion, a small portion of the whole, are in the greatest numbers among those who come from Cuba.
The Pew Forum predicts that between now and 2030, Latin Americans will increase from 33 to 41 percent of Catholics in the United States.
RELIGIOUS PRACTICES AND BELIEFS
With respect to the other Catholics in the United States, the Hispanics are more devoted to the Virgin Mary, they pray to the saints more, maintain that the Bible is the directly inspired word of God, go to church more often, and give religion a more important place in their lives.
Moreover, fully half of the "Latino" Catholics believe that Jesus will return to earth soon, during their lifetimes. And three out of four are convinced that God guarantees wealth and health for those who have faith.
CATHOLICS AND CHARISMATICS
Unlike the other Catholics in the United States – of whom only one in ten is a self-proclaimed Charismatic – among Catholic "Latinos" 28 percent describe themselves this way: a proportion that increases greatly if one looks not at the classifications but at the behaviors typical of this purist, communitarian, inspired form of Catholicism, with frequent spiritual experiences from healings to speaking in unknown languages.
With respect to other Catholics, the Charismatics of Latin American origin are also much more faithful to the traditional doctrines of the Church: they believe that the bread and wine of the Mass are really the body and blood of Jesus, they go to confession, they recite the rosary.
Among the emigrants from Latin America, one out of five has changed religion, almost all of them out of the "desire for a more direct and personal experience of God." Very few of them say they have abandoned the Catholic Church because they were unsatisfied with its positions on questions like priestly celibacy or the ban on divorce, or because of the "neither lively nor inviting way" in which the Mass is celebrated (a criticism shared by half of them).
With respect to the other creeds, the "Latino" Catholics express a favorable judgment of evangelical Christians in the measure of 42 percent favorable, for Jews in the measure of 38 percent, for Protestant Pentecostals in the measure of 38 percent, for Mormons in the measure of 32 percent, for Muslims in the measure of 26 percent, and for atheists in the measure of 17 percent. Those not favorable mostly do not express their views. Among the other confessions, the highly favorable judgment (77 percent) of Pentecostals toward Jews stands out.
In the United States, the churches attended by the "Latino" Catholics are, for two thirds of the people interviewed, those in which all three of these conditions are found: the Mass is celebrated in Spanish or Portuguese, the faithful belong to the same ethnic group, and the priests are Hispanic.
RELIGION AND POLITICS
While the majority of non-Hispanic Catholics prefer that the Church stay away from politics, the "Latinos" think differently: 57 percent ask that the Church speak out from time to time on social and political questions. And 44 percent complain that political leaders display their religious faith "too little."
52 percent of Catholics from Latin America are against homosexual marriage, 54 percent maintain that abortion should be illegal, and 40 percent oppose the death penalty, with higher numbers among those who go to Mass most frequently.
Seven out of ten "Latinos," among both Catholics and Protestants, say that the Church should not issue guidelines on parties and candidates. In voting, three times as many Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as Democrats versus the Republicans (48 percent versus 17 percent), the opposite of the Protestants, the majority of whom are Republican.
In any case, almost half of "Latino" Catholics, on par with the Protestants, are convinced that social evils would be healed if more people drew near to Christ.