Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Roman Catholics Count on Hispanics, Even as More Leave the Church

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Roman Catholics Count on Hispanics, Even as More Leave the Church

Article excerpt

While some St. Louisans celebrated Cinco de Mayo with guacamole and beer, the women of St. Cecilia Catholic Church marked it with their devotion.

On Monday night, draped with veils, or "mantillas" in Spanish, they strolled into St. Cecilia, an overwhelmingly Hispanic parish famous in the city for its fish fries.

Acoustic Spanish music strummed live in the background.

And during the homily, the Rev. Anthony Ochoa, the only Hispanic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, joked even Mexicans aren't sure what Cinco de Mayo is all about.

Maria Lara, 49, who is from Mexico but now helps prepare lunches for schoolchildren in the city, says attending a church where the priest speaks her language is crucial, though she has learned English after more than two decades in the states.

"We can understand it, but it doesn't feel the same," Lara said of the other Masses in the region.

A new survey of more than 5,000 Latinos by the Pew Research Center finds that parishes like St. Cecilia are facing a paradox: Even as the population of Hispanic Catholics is rising in the U.S., a greater number are defecting to other faiths.

Nearly one-in-four Latino adults, or 24 percent, are now former Catholics, according to the survey.

Roman Catholics who have left the faith have tended to either drift toward a Protestant denomination or have ended their affiliation with religion altogether. According to the Pew Research Center survey, about 22 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. identify as Protestant, while 18 percent say they are religiously unaffiliated.

Yet more than half of the nation's estimated 35.4 million Latinos, or 19.6 million, identify as Catholics.

And as of 2013, one-third, or 33 percent, of all U.S. Roman Catholics were Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center.

So as the study puts it, even as Hispanics leave the church, because of the growing size of the Latino population, "a day could come when a majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic, even though the majority of Hispanics might no longer be Catholic."

Or as a different recent study the National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry notes: "Hispanics account for 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic population in the United States since 1960."

That study, released Monday, was written by Hosffman Ospino, professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Hispanics are a relatively small minority in the St. Louis region, particularly in comparison to other parts of the country. About 2.6 percent of residents in the area, or 57,900, are Hispanic, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.

But the pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Louis projects that 11 percent of Roman Catholics in the region will be Latinos by 2020.

Currently, Catholic churches in St. Louis with a large Hispanic population include not only St. Cecilia but parishes such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in St. Ann.

Churches in the Diocese of Belleville, such as Holy Rosary Parish in Fairmont City, also have welcomed an influx of Latino immigrants, many of them from Mexico.

"I think it's huge for our future," said Sister Rose Ann Ficker, director of Hispanic ministry at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish. …

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