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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 7, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 9Oakland, CA

U.S. Latino Catholics drawn to charismatic style of worship

Worshippers sing during a Spanish Mass at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., last year. A new study from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latinos are influencing U.S. religious practice, especially Catholicism. Latinos account for about a third of all Catholics in the United States.
CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Church familiar to and preferred by Hispanic Catholics in the United States is a livelier, more charismatic place than the one most American Catholics are used to, finds a new survey on Latinos and religion.

A detailed survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released April 25 says about a third of U.S. Catholics are Latinos and that they are bringing a more evangelical style of faith into the broader Church as their numbers grow.

Despite an overall drop in the percentage of U.S. Hispanics who are Catholic -- due largely to those who joined evangelical and Pentecostal churches -- Latinos will continue to represent an ever-larger share of the U.S. Catholic population because of immigration and high birthrates, it said. About 68 percent of U.S. Hispanics say they are Catholics.

While in many respects Latinos differ little from the general U.S. population in their religious attitudes and activities, Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said analysts were surprised to see the depth of what he called “renewal Christianity” among people of Latino origin or descent.

In a telephone press conference about the study, “Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion,” Suro said Latinos are much more likely than the general U.S. public to be involved in churches where an enthusiastic, hand-clapping, arms-raised style of worship and prayer is typical.

Fifty-four percent of Hispanic Catholics were identified as charismatics on the basis of what religious practices people said they have in their churches, the survey said. Among the characteristics the survey used to classify people as charismatics was participation in prayer groups where participants pray for miraculous healing or deliverance or where people speak in tongues.

The survey found that 62 percent of Catholic Hispanics say the Masses they attend at least occasionally have “displays of excitement and enthusiasm, such as raising hands, clapping, shouting or jumping.”

Among non-Hispanic Catholics, only about 12 percent consider themselves charismatics, Suro said.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, said at the same teleconference that becoming involved in the charismatic style of religious practice strengthens people’s religious identity. Whether Catholic, Anglican or mainline Protestant, Latinos who adopt a more charismatic style of practicing their faith remain within their original church and become stronger in their religious commitment, he said.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that it’s diminishing or undercutting their Catholic orthodoxy or their connection to parish life,” he said.

Hispanic Protestants were proportionally even more likely to belong to “renewal” churches, with 57 percent in that category.

“The contrast to the non-Hispanic population is stark: Less than one in five non-Hispanic Protestants are renewalists,” the survey said.

About 18 percent of all Hispanics said they had changed churches or stopped considering themselves members of a faith altogether. Former Catholics (13 percent) were the majority.

Conversion was much more common among second- and third-generation Hispanics than among recent immigrants, the survey found. And the majority left Catholicism to join evangelical churches. Forty-three percent of evangelical Hispanics said they formerly were Catholic. Just 2 percent of Hispanic converts became Catholics.

Catholics who became evangelicals were asked to discuss their feelings about the Catholic Church and why they left.

The greatest dissatisfaction was voiced about liturgy.

Sixty-one percent of former Catholics said they found the Mass “unexciting,” although only 36 percent said that was a factor in why they left. Forty-six percent said they disapprove of Church restrictions on divorce, but only 5 percent said that was why they left.

Among all Hispanics surveyed, 83 percent of those who converted said their main reason for changing faiths or churches was a desire for a more direct, personal experience of God. The second most common reason, given by 35 percent, was the inspiration of a particular pastor, followed by 26 percent who said it was related to a personal crisis and 14 percent who converted because of a marriage.


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