Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Parishes Fail to Market Catholicism to Hispanics

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Parishes Fail to Market Catholicism to Hispanics

Article excerpt

Millions of Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, have flooded into the United States in recent decades, raising concerns about the impact these newcomers will have on American society and culture. What is seldom recognized in the debate over immigration, however, is the impact that American society and culture is having on Hispanics. They are becoming more American. They are taking advantage of educational and economic opportunities. Like legions of others before them, they are leaving behind the old life and creating a new one. And remarkably, for hundreds of thousands of Hispanics each year, that new life includes a new Protestant evangelical faith, a faith based not in Rome but in their own communities.

For these new immigrants, Catholic parishes have failed to present themselves as important resources of help and information. Sure of Hispanics' traditional bond with Catholicism, these parishes fail to market their faith in a country that presents a plethora of choices.

The beauty of a vibrant society is often seen in how it grows and metamorphoses into new practices and traditions. Yet this transition to Protestantism seems to have taken American Catholic churches by surprise. Catholicism continues to be a conservative religion in terms of adapting to cultural shifts and modernization. Most Catholics like their traditions and the sense of being part of a global church. Most Hispanics see in Catholicism a link to their homeland and the families they left behind.

And they are part of a bloc that is holding to the Christian faith. In 1990, Americans classified as Christian amounted 86 percent of the U.S. population, according to the American Religious Identification Survey of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A decade later, in 2001, that percentage had dropped to 76.5 percent (159 million Americans), many of whom now claimed no religious affiliation at all.

But a large part of those 159 million who are still Christians are Hispanic. Around 35 million people, at least 25 million of whom identify themselves as Catholics--but there is a clear demographic shift underway.

Among recent immigrants from Latin American countries, 600,000 a year are leaving the Catholic church and becoming Protestant evangelicals. Hispanics are no longer a solid Catholic population; Hispanics affiliated with Protestant churches are growing at a faster rate than those affiliated with Catholic parishes.

The reason is that for many of those 600,000 a year, the Catholic church is too physically and emotionally distant to help them cope with the pressures and uncertainties of their new life in the United States. To be sure, the Catholic church has many social services available, but these are typically presented in a bureaucratized fashion, through special offices and agencies. They are not parish-centered in a way that makes Hispanics feel welcome and at home.

This is where Protestant evangelicals have gained the advantage. Protestant religions quickly evolved and adapted to the demands of the modern world. The Assemblies of God and other evangelical churches identified new demographic trends and developed strategies for meeting the needs of those not native to the Bible Belt--for example, by actively marketing their faith in the Spanish-language media, both in the United States and in Spanish-speaking countries. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.