Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Latin Future

Gratefully, this story isn't what many of you would immediately think it is, judging by the headline....

Continuing its series on the global church, the Philadelphia Inquirer comes home today to discover what US Catholics of earlier immigration cycles have begun to realize:
Since 1970, Latinos have accounted for a remarkable 90 percent of the church's growth nationwide. They already make up 42 percent of the Catholic population in this country, and if their immigration and birthrates stay at current levels, they will be the majority by midcentury.
Talk about your eye-popping numbers.... And what will the effect of this be, you ask?

While nearly half of Latinos in the United States are not fluent enough to follow an English-language Mass, they are more likely to shape the future of the American Catholic Church than all its other ethnic groups - including those that have led it during the last 200 years.

This epic shift is grist for scholars' speculation. There are those who foresee Latin religious expression eventually defining the U.S. church, and those who predict that generations of immigrant offspring will be homogenized, as the Irish, Poles and Italians were a century ago. Others envision the evolution of two separate, culturally distinct churches.

R. Stephen Warner, an authority on religious communities and immigration, sees them slowly meeting partway.

Latinos are "Americanizing, and at the same time, I think, the church is moving toward them," said Warner, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The result will be "a little less puritanism, a little more Pentecostalism, and a lot more exuberance."

Where Latino concentrations are heaviest, particularly in the South and Southwest, Catholic worship and parish life already have changed. One of the most vivid public signs has been the growing popularity of the outdoor passion play "Via Crucis." Hispanic men writhe on crosses on Good Friday, as three did in April in front of the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas.

Inside Latino-influenced churches, things also are vastly - if not quite so graphically - different.

Before coming to the Camden Diocese in 2004, Bishop Joseph Galante spent 16 years in three Texas dioceses. There he found a style of worship "which is totally participated in, with music and singing and gestures."

"It doesn't fit the American ideal," he said, but "it's very strong, very powerful, very good, very needed.

Case in point: everyone needs to see the mananitas just once. They'll change your life.