February 22, 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 III (Last part)

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz


Changing Christian denomination can bring consequences for many immigrants, some families have even been destroyed because of the change, said Alberto Hernandez, a sociologist at Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana and author of the study “La conversión religiosa como proceso transnacional” (“Religious Conversion as a Transnational Process”).

“The family relationship changes,” Hernandez said. “Some of them put a distance between family members that don’t share the same faith.”

Other consequences are joining sects and churches that take advantage of people’s faith for money. There are churches that rip immigrants of their money.

“These are isolated cases where there’s theft and they have very absurd ideas,” Hernandez said. “But these are just a small percentage that takes advantage of the emotional situation of immigrants.”

The same faith?

Some believe that among Catholics there’s certain level of intolerance against other Christian denominations.

“If you’re Mexican but you’re not Catholic, people see you as an aberration,” said Luis Germán Villa, who is an Evangelic.

But Hernandez said that the panorama is changing.

“It’s completely incorrect to say that Mexican and Catholic are synonymous,” he said. “In Mexico there are a lot of changes taking place, and today, even in all of Latin America, a high percentage of the population is not Catholic.”

Enrique Mendez, retired director of the former Office of Hispanic Affairs, office that’s now part of the Office for Cultural Diversity at the Diocese of San Diego, said that tolerance is very importance.

“The Catholic Church is not against other religions,” he said. “We treat them with respect and we’re creating a dialogue with other denominations”.

Some Catholics complain of groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who knock on doors to share their message.

“When I see Mexicans who used to be Catholics I ask them why they changed,” Mendez said. “There’s when I notice that they left the Catholic Church because of ignorance. They didn’t know the doctrine and didn’t love it. I respect them, but if non-Catholics knock on a Catholic house, I ask them to respect our beliefs.”

Ignacio Retes, who is a Mormon, said that Christians, Catholics or not, share the same faith.

“At the end, Jehova’s Witnesses and Mormons, Catholics and Baptists, Evangelists and Lutherans, they all have something in common: Our faith for Jesus Christ,” he said.

For Mendez, it’s important that all Christians, including Catholics, remain strong in their beliefs.

“Learn, love, and practice your religion,” he said, “but above all, follow Christ’s footsteps.”

Rodrigo Valdivia, director of the Office of Cultural Diversity at the Diocese of San Diego, said he agrees that among all Christians, including Catholics, there should be respect, just like Jesus Christ would’ve done.

“Our mission, as Catholics, is to follow Jesus, share his love and in this way continue building the kingdom of God among us,” Valdivia said.

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