February 15, 2008

From Catholic to Protestant

Many Catholics from Mexico to Argentina when migrate to the U.S. change to a different Christian denomination. What are the reasons behind these changes?

Part II

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

The Catholic Church in the U.S.

Some critics argue that the U.S. Catholic Church, which for the most part is administered by bishops of Irish origin, doesn’t meet the needs of Mexican immigrants, because they don’t speak the same language and don’t follow the same traditions.

But Orlando Espin, professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Science at the University of San Diego, said that this isn’t always true.

“It would be an injustice to generalize. I think that this varies from church to church,” Espin said.

Sociologist Meredith Mc-Guire, cited in the study “The Latino Face of American Catholicism,” completed by the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism at USD, states that the differences between the Church in the U.S. and Latin America are strong.

“Many Latinos don’t find a sense of community in the U.S. Catholic Church; many have become Protestants, but many others don’t identify with Catholicism so strange to their cultural experience.”

Rodrigo Valdivia, director of the Office of Cultural Diversity at the Diocese of San Diego, said there are several reasons why many Latino immigrants end up joining other denominations when they arrive in this country.

One of them is that the Catholic Church reflects the culture of the U.S., just like in Mexico, Central, and South America it reflects the cultures of those regions, Valdivia said.

“The majority of immigrants find a Catholic Church that doesn’t look familiar on the surface,” he said. “They meet other communities that offer support but guide them towards different believes that don’t include the seven sacraments nor do they give a place of honor to the Virgin. Also, many Latino immigrants come from rural zones but settle in urban areas in the U.S. In their homeland they knew their brothers in faith and the priests, but when they get here they meet with very large and impersonal communities.”

There are almost one million Catholics in the Diocese of San Diego. A little bit less than 50 percent of those are Latinos, Valdivia said.

“This means that the Catholic Church of San Diego is responding to the Latino people which is made up of about 500,000 faithful,” Valdivia said. “This year, 15 to 20 percent of those converted to Catholicism in Easter will be Latinos. Every year hundreds of Latinos turn to Catholicism.”

Valdivia said that the number of churches that offer mass in Spanish is growing in San Diego County.

Without a doubt, Spanish is an important aspect among Catholic immigrants. In San Diego, 57 churches and chapels offer Spanish-language mass on Sundays, Valdivia said.

The Church in this country, like many other things, works in a more orderly fashion than in Latin American countries, he said.

“The clergy culture reflects the characteristics and values of the society –organization and individualism,” Valdivia said. “The result it’s more difficult for immigrants to recognize the Church. It would be impossible to try to change the dominant culture, and it would be ignorant to ask it to change, but we have, and we continue to, tried to serve all cultures in the Diocese.”

Some critics say that smaller churches offer a sense of community that’s lacking in the U.S. Catholic Church.

Those same critics say that the percentage of Catholic people that really knows their religion is really low. When they come to the U. S. they have feel a spiritual emptiness.

Feeling far from their homeland, they try to fill it. In their places of origin they were used to attend Mass together or participate in church events. Non-Catholic Christians in the U.S. tend to have more activities around their church, some Protestants say.

But Valdivia said that many Catholics, although they join other denominations, still consider themselves Catholics.

“Many of our Latino brothers that celebrate in other religions return to the Catholic Church to celebrate Ash Wednesday, Christmas and Easter. The Church still recognizes them and respects their Catholic rights, such as matrimony, confession, and burial. The Church supports religious freedom and treats with respect other Christian denominations and even other religions (Muslims, Jews, etc.),” Valdivia said.

Return to the Frontpage