Protestants and Catholics alike steer toward renewalism
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Beside offering Spanish-language traditional Masses every Sunday, the church and mission host a spirit-filled, charismatic prayer group on Friday nights and an even more emotional Brazilian-style Mass in Portuguese on Sunday nights. Father Paul J. Rossi said gatherings of about 30 singing and praying parishioners sound more like 500.
"The church has to adapt to people’s spiritual needs," Rossi said Wednesday. "We have to do a better job of teaching the faith and ministering to people’s needs to keep them in the community."
Latinos — whose numbers are growing through immigration and births — are transforming the nation’s religious landscape, especially the Roman Catholic Church, according to one of the largest-ever studies of Latinos’ faith, which was released Wednesday. Latinos now account for one-third of American Catholics, and that proportion is likely to continue rising, according to the findings from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center.
Latinos also are clustering into ethnically focused, Spanish-language houses of worship. And throughout Christianity, they are nourishing a distinctive form of worship known as renewalism that is sweeping across Latin America.
One of the fastest-growing movements in Christendom, renewalism emphasizes God’s daily intervention in human affairs through the Holy Spirit. The movement includes Pentecostal and charismatic churches, where biblical studies are literal and congregants might speak in tongues, believe in divine healings, exorcisms and modern prophesies.
The study also found that Latinos’ political party affiliations roughly correlate with their religious affiliations — and that the growth in Pentecostals and charismatics could have major political implications. Latino evangelicals are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to be Republicans, the study found. And they are much more likely than Latino Catholics to approve of how President Bush is handling his job and to favor using force in Iraq.
In interviews with 4,016 Latinos from August to October, Pew found that most consider themselves religious and pray daily. Almost 70 percent are Roman Catholic, and 15 percent are Protestant. Within those religions, 54 percent of Latino Catholics and 57 percent of Latino Protestants define themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal.
"You could call it bringing the fiesta spirit into the Catholic Church," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
By comparison, about 10 percent of non-Latino Catholics and 20 percent of non-Latino Protestants identify as charismatic or Pentecostal.
In addition to immigration and births, conversions are bringing Latinos into the Protestant faiths. The study found that half of Latino evangelicals are converts, largely ex-Catholics who wanted a more personal experience with God and were bored by typical Mass. At the same time, the study’s authors said, other Catholic renewalists are staying with the church but forming new worship groups within.
"It has huge pastoral implications," Lugo said.
This portrait of Latino spirituality is playing out in the Bay Area, where the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 21.2 percent of the 6.7 million residents were Hispanics of any race in 2005.
Iglesia Del Pacto in San Francisco’s Mission District is a Pentecostal church that broke off from Dolores Park Church to form a Spanish-language congregation. It has around 150 members, many of them former Catholics who want a simple, more heartfelt approach, said Father Alberto Ruiz.
The size of a Pentecostal or charismatic community depends on where the Latinos come from and whether they are first-generation immigrants or second- and third-generation. At St. Boniface Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, Father Jorge Hernandez said most of his Latino parishioners are new to the country and from Mexico, where Catholics tend to be more conservative than in the United States.
Hernandez said the families he ministers to are new immigrants working several jobs, sharing residential hotel rooms with other families, looking for permanent places to live and short on time for religious observances beyond the perfunctory Mass or baptism.
In San Rafael’s Catholic church and mission, where Rossi said the Latino population is multigenerational, congregants are from Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil, which is still the world’s most heavily Catholic country but also is one of the most Pentecostal.
This worldwide shift toward Pentecostalism is likely to be a top discussion item next month when Pope Benedict XVI heads to Brazil for the fifth general conference of Latin American bishops.
Renewalism: Worship that emphasizes God’s daily intervention in human affairs through the person of the Holy Spirit. Renewalists believe the power manifests through supernatural phenomena such as speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and prophetic utterances. Renewalism is one of the fastest-growing movements in global Christianity.
Pentecostal: Within renewalism, this is a Protestant denomination that includes churches such as Calvary, Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ where energetic worship might include speaking in tongues, healings and other supernatural phenomena.
Charismatic: Describes Christians, including Catholics, who don’t belong to a Pentecostal church but share many of their beliefs and practices.