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Is Catholicism Dying Out Among U.S. Hispanics? Latino Catholics Weigh In

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Is Catholicism dying out among U.S. Hispanics? Latino Catholics weigh in

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio blesses matachine dancers during a celebration on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He believes that Hispanics — immigrants especially — will help bring new life into the Church. / Credit: Archdiocese of San Antonio

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 15, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

It’s Dec. 12 in San Antonio. Despite the cold outside, the inside of San Fernando Cathedral is packed with thousands of people of all ages: young, old, and in between.

By the altar is a brightly lit image of Our Lady of Guadalupe surrounded by roses of all colors. It’s a peaceful scene.

But that peace is suddenly broken by the loud, quick thumping of drums and the rattling of maracas as two lines of brightly colored dancers process in from the back doors. In unison, the dancers approach the image of the Virgin and after dancing before Our Lady for a few moments, the drums cease just as suddenly as they began. All say a silent prayer and then the drums resume as the group exits the church.

Hispanic Catholics of varying ages perform the traditional Mexican "danza de matachines" in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her Dec. 12 feast day at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Credit: Archdiocese of San Antonio
Hispanic Catholics of varying ages perform the traditional Mexican "danza de matachines" in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her Dec. 12 feast day at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Credit: Archdiocese of San Antonio

This is the “danza de matachines,” a Mexican tradition practiced in parishes and cities across Mexico and the U.S. to honor the Blessed Mother’s feast day. The lively matachines performance will often be accompanied by special prayers, Mass, and parties that gather entire parish communities.

Since Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition in 1531, Catholicism has been a mainstay in the life and culture of Hispanics across Latin America and the United States.

But today the future of the Hispanic Catholic Church is being called into question as new reports and data indicate that Latinos, especially those under 30, are leaving the Church in significant numbers, leading some to ask: Is Catholicism dying out in the country's Hispanic communities?

Is the Catholic Church being replaced?

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 43% of Hispanics in America are Catholic, a major decline from 67% in 2010.

Some chalk up this trend to Hispanics converting to evangelicalism or other Protestant denominations. A recent article in The Free Press touted that narrative, claiming: “Latinos are flocking to evangelical Christianity.” But while The Free Press foresees an evangelical boom, available data as well as Hispanic leaders in the Catholic Church paint a different picture.

According to Pew, Christianity in the U.S. across all demographics has been waning. The Catholic decline among Latinos is being led by young Hispanics, ages 18–29, a demographic in which evangelicalism is also declining.

Today, 30% of Hispanics ages 18–29 identify as Catholic. Meanwhile, 11% of Hispanics in this age group identify as evangelical, 6% below the next two older age brackets, 30–49 and 50–64.

The largest religious group — 49% — of Hispanics ages 18–29 is religiously unaffiliated, a category often referred to as the “nones.” Thus, the average young Hispanic in America today is more likely to identify as a “none” than as either a Catholic or an evangelical.

“Young Hispanics are following the same trend as non-Hispanics,” said José Manuel De Urquidi, founder of the Juan Diego Network, a Latino media ministry. “By 25, most are leaving the Church. And contrary to what other people believe, they’re mostly going to the nones. Some are going to other Christian denominations, but most are not.”

Why are they leaving?

In an interview with CNA, De Urquidi explained that since the COVID lockdowns many Hispanics, especially younger Latinos, are neglecting to participate in basic aspects of the life of the Church such as Mass, confession, and other sacraments.

"We're not doing enough to welcome young Hispanics, so they feel it is their abuelita’s [grandmother’s] Church or their parents' Church, but not theirs,” says José Manuel De Urquidi of the Juan Diego Network. Credit: "EWTN News in Depth:/Screenshot
"We're not doing enough to welcome young Hispanics, so they feel it is their abuelita’s [grandmother’s] Church or their parents' Church, but not theirs,” says José Manuel De Urquidi of the Juan Diego Network. Credit: "EWTN News in Depth:/Screenshot

For De Urquidi and others who are deeply engaged in Hispanic ministry, it comes down to a crisis of communion and community. Oftentimes young people simply feel that they don’t belong in the pews.

“We’re not doing enough to welcome young Hispanics, so they feel it is their abuelita’s [grandmother’s] Church or their parents’ Church, but not theirs,” De Urquidi said.

Father Allen Deck, a professor of theology who also works in campus ministry at Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University, said that the trend among Hispanics is also “part of a much bigger phenomenon within a growing secular environment.”

“It’s not only about what is happening in the Hispanic-Latino context, but it’s what’s happening with institutional religions across the board,” he explained.

Though worrying, Deck said that the Church should use this as an opportunity to take young people’s concerns to heart, especially when it comes to their need for community and a sense of belonging.

“We need to be part of a living group of faith, whether that be family, parish, diocese, or society,” he explained. “So liturgical prayer that stresses active participation, particularly in the Eucharist, is very important for people to develop a sense of belonging to something bigger.”

What do America’s bishops have to say?

In 2021, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reported that the country’s Hispanic Catholic population, estimated at 30 million, comprises 40% of all U.S. Catholics.

Even dioceses in cities that are not traditionally associated with Hispanics are now seeing the fruits of the Latino Church. 

“Faith is alive in the Hispanic communities,” Edmundo Reyes of the Archdiocese of Detroit told CNA.

“Yes, there are some challenges, especially among Latinos born in the United States, as part of the larger secularization of the American people,” he admitted. “However, faith is still a significant part of Latinos’ lives and worldview.” 

Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia told CNA the country’s leading bishops understand the Church has been losing young Hispanics in significant numbers and is aware of the danger this reality poses.

Addressing the problem was the subject of extensive discussion at a national “encuentro” (encounter) organized by the USCCB in 2018. The event saw extensive discussions on how the Church can better minister to Hispanics and involved the input and participation of some 300,000 Latino Catholics from more than 3,000 parishes.

From these discussions, the country’s bishops drew up a National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry that was released in 2023. Titled “Missionary Disciples Going Forth With Joy,” the document outlines the bishops’ recommendations and priorities for U.S. dioceses, parishes, and Catholic institutions ministering to Hispanic Catholics.

"Where Hispanic ministry is present it's strong and vibrant," says Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez. Credit: "EWTN News in Depth"/Screenshot
"Where Hispanic ministry is present it's strong and vibrant," says Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez. Credit: "EWTN News in Depth"/Screenshot

Perez, who was lead bishop for the 2018 Encuentro, shared that one of the most powerful fruits of the initiative was that Hispanic lay leaders have begun to “take their place in the Church.”

This development, Perez believes, will be a boon to the Catholic Church in the U.S. “I find that Hispanics are very much within their comfort zones to reach out with their faith. Their faith is worn on their sleeve,” he said, adding: “Where Hispanic ministry is present it’s strong and vibrant.”

Pointing to his Philadelphia Archdiocese where he has seen previously emptying parishes now being filled with Hispanics, he concluded: “I don’t just think Hispanics are the future. They’re the present.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, who first came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1980, told CNA that despite the challenges and losses, “in many ways there has been change for the better” because the Hispanic population in the Catholic Church “has been more organized and has mobilized more and in that sense they’re more prepared for ministry in the Church.” 

He believes that Hispanics, immigrants especially, will help bring new life into the Church. 

“The newcomers nowadays, they bring with them their faith, which here we have been losing,” he said.

New life for the Church

Cristofer Pereyra, an immigrant from Peru who founded the Tepeyac Leadership Initiative, told CNA “the influence that Latinos have in the Church and society is only going to continue to increase.”

Phoenix-based Cristofer Pereyra is CEO at Tepeyac Leadership, Inc. Credit: "The Hour of the Laity"/EWTN Screenshot
Phoenix-based Cristofer Pereyra is CEO at Tepeyac Leadership, Inc. Credit: "The Hour of the Laity"/EWTN Screenshot

“Yes, we’re losing so many,” he granted. “But what I find is that the ones that stick around are more committed. They are very secure in who they are and in their faith.”

Though a painful process, Pereyra believes the result will be an even stronger Hispanic presence in the Church that will eventually lead to a resurgence of the faith.

“The ones who are staying are staying to lead, to lead within the Church and to lead outside,” he said.

Natalia Ramírez, a 23-year-old Hispanic Catholic who attends San Francisco de Asís Parish in Chicago and is a member of the Hispanic young adult ministry “Iskali,” put it simply: The Hispanic Church is facing a crisis because many Latinos were not taught the “beautiful gifts” of their Catholic faith.

Iskali, a ministry that serves young Hispanic Catholics in the United States, seeks to form active missionary disciples. Credit: Iskali
Iskali, a ministry that serves young Hispanic Catholics in the United States, seeks to form active missionary disciples. Credit: Iskali

Born in Mexico City and raised in a heavily Catholic Hispanic community in Chicago, Ramírez said that many of her family members and childhood friends no longer practice any faith at all.

But this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. She knows this from personal experience.

“The more I’m learning about the faith, the more I fall in love with it,” she said. “Before I had no idea of what the holy Eucharist was. But after learning about the holy Eucharist, I realized that Jesus is closer to me than I ever thought before.”

Sicilian city celebrates 400th year of feast of St. Rosalia

Capella di Santa Rosa, St. Rosalia's Chapel inside of the Palermo Cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta in Sicily, Itay. May 5, 2022. / Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

Palermo, Italy, Jul 15, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The city of Palermo on the Italian island of Sicily is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the feast day of its beloved patron, St. Rosalia, affectionately known as “la Santuzza” in Sicilian dialect.

The July 15 feast marks when tradition holds the hermit girl’s remains were rediscovered in a cave close to Palermo in 1624. Her intercession, begged by carrying her relics in solemn procession through the Spanish-ruled city, is said to have saved its inhabitants from plague 400 years ago this summer.

“‘Per amore Domini mei,’ [‘for love of my Lord’] is the motive St. Rosalia invokes in surrendering one’s existence and abandoning the wealth of the world,” Pope Francis said in a message sent to Archbishop Corrado Lorefice of Palermo July 8.

“The life of the Christian, both in the times when our hermit Virgin lived and in our days, is constantly marked by the cross,” the pontiff said. “Christians are those who always love, but often in circumstances where love is not understood or is even rejected.”

St. Rosalia is believed to have been born around 1130 to a family of Norman origin that boasted to be descended from Charlemagne. She lived about 60 years after the Norman conquest of Palermo, which saw the city returned to Christianity after a period of Arab and Muslim rule. 

Despite belonging to a noble family, Rosalia renounced her riches to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, just north of the city.

Capella di Santa Rosa, St. Rosalia's Chapel inside of the Palermo Cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta in Sicily, Italy, May 4, 2022. Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
Capella di Santa Rosa, St. Rosalia's Chapel inside of the Palermo Cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta in Sicily, Italy, May 4, 2022. Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

According to popular belief, St. Rosalia was led to the cave by angels and wrote on the cave wall: “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of [Monte] delle Rose, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.” She died in the cave, poor and alone, around 1166, while only in her mid-30s.

The groundbreaking for the construction of the Palermo cathedral began two decades later, in 1185.

But the remains of the holy young woman would not be found until over 400 years later, when, the tradition says, Rosalia appeared to a hunter, to whom she indicated where her relics could be found.

Rosalia’s remains were carried around Palermo three times in procession, as she had indicated to do in her apparition to the hunter, and a plague then ravaging the city ceased.

From that point onward, Rosalia, called “la Santuzza” (“the little saint” in English), has been the patron saint of Palermo.

The Palermo Archdiocese marks her feast day with a week of religious and cultural events leading up to the grand finale on July 15: a solemn procession of her relics through the city’s main streets followed by a fireworks show on the steps of the cathedral.

But the night prior, on July 14, the city takes part in a less devotional spectacle: a parade of colorful floats and a statue of the saint, which goes from the Palace of the Normans, a governmental building, to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

To mark the feast’s 400th anniversary, the archdiocese and city have been celebrating a Rosalian jubilee year to conclude on Rosalia’s other feast day, Sept. 4.

“The happy occurrence of the fourth centenary of the discovery of the body of St. Rosalia is a special occasion to unite myself spiritually with you, dear sons and daughters of the Church of Palermo, who wish to raise to the heavenly Father, the source of all grace, praise for the gift of such a sublime figure of a woman and ‘apostle,’ who did not hesitate to accept the trials of loneliness for love of her Lord,” Pope Francis said in his message last week.

“With Rosalia, woman of hope, I therefore exhort you: Church of Palermo stand up! Be beacons of new hope, be a living community that, regenerated by the blood of the martyrs, gives true and luminous witness to Christ our Savior,” he continued. “People of God in this blessed stretch of land, do not lose hope and do not give in to discouragement. Rediscover the joy of wonder before the embrace of a Father who calls you to himself and leads you on the paths of life to savor the fruits of harmony and peace.”

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"Taking President Joe Biden's faith seriously, I have found myself wondering what resources we in the church might be able to provide him in this very difficult moment," writes Jim McDermott

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Devout Christian Dad Died in Trump Assassination Attempt

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Devout Christian dad killed in Trump assassination attempt was ‘the very best of us’

Trump supporters are seen covered with blood in the stands in aftermath of assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump in Butler, Pennsylvania, July 13, 2024. / Credit: Photo by REBECCA DROKE/AFP via Getty Images

Boston, Mass., Jul 14, 2024 / 15:46 pm (CNA).

The 50-year-old husband and father who was fatally shot Saturday at former president Donald Trump’s campaign rally outside of Pittsburgh was a devoted Christian and “the very best of us,” according to his family and the state’s governor.

Corey Comperatore “went to church every Sunday. Corey loved his community. Most especially, Corey loved his family,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a press conference Sunday.

Speaking to reporters north of Pittsburgh, the Democratic governor said that he spoke to Comperatore’s wife and two daughters. 

Comperatore was a “girl dad” who worked as a firefighter, Shapiro said.

“I asked Corey’s wife if it would be okay for me to share that we spoke. And she said yes,” Shapiro said on Sunday. 

“She also asked that I share with all of you that Corey died a hero. That Corey dove on his family to protect them last night at this rally. Corey was the very best of us. May his memory be a blessing.”

Comperatore was “an avid supporter of the former president and was so excited to be there last night with him in the community,” the governor added.

Flags will be flying at half staff in the state after the tragedy, Shapiro said. 

Comperatore was a chief at the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Department. That township is about a 30-minute drive northeast of Pittsburgh.

Comperatore’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles say that he was a project and tooling engineer at JSP, a manufacturing company.

A Saturday Facebook post from Comperatore’s wife, Helen — posted prior to the shooting — said that the family wasn’t originally sitting in the bleachers behind the former president.

It wasn’t until a campaign official approached the family and asked if they wanted to be seated in the bleachers behind Trump that they were moved, she wrote.

Dawn Comperatore Schafer, who identified herself as Corey’s sister, said on Facebook Sunday that the firefighter “was a hero that shielded his daughters. His wife and girls just lived through the unthinkable and unimaginable. My baby brother just turned 50 and had so much life left to experience.”

“The hatred for one man took the life of the one man we loved the most,” she said. “Hatred has no limits and love has no bounds. Pray for my sister-in-law, nieces, my mother, sister, me, and his nieces and nephews as this feels like a terrible nightmare but we know it is our painful reality.”

A Facebook post by Comperatore’s daughter Allyson was circulating the internet on Sunday; in it she called the event “a real-life nightmare.”

“What was supposed to be an exciting day that we had all looked forward to (ESPECIALLY my dad), turned into the most traumatizing experiences someone could imagine,” she wrote.

Allyson called her father “the best dad a girl could ever ask for,” adding that he “was a man of God, loved Jesus fiercely, and also looked after our church and our members as family.”

“The media will not tell you that he died a real-life superhero. They are not going to tell you how quickly he threw my mom and I to the ground,” she said. 

“They are not going to tell you that he shielded my body from the bullet that came at us. He loved his family. He truly loved us enough to take a real bullet for us. And I want nothing more than to cry on him and tell him thank you. I want nothing more than to wake up and for this to not be reality for me and my family,” she said.

A GoFundMe fundraiser had raised nearly $500,000 for the Comperatore family by Sunday evening.

‘Excess Enslaves You,’ Pope Francis Warns Christians

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