Catholic Church Losing Ground in Latin America

Pope Francis in his popemobile in Brazil for the re-enactment of the Way of the Cross. Photo via Robson Coehlo/RNS

In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows.

The shift is dramatic for a region that has long been a bastion of Catholicism. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90 percent of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84 percent of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said they were raised Catholic.

But the report released Nov. 13 found that only 69 percent of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19 percent) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8 percent).

Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America.

“While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more skeptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favorable view of the pope.”

New York Archdiocese, One of the World’s Grandest, Shrinks

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan prays during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz/RNS.

The Archdiocese of New York, with the second-largest Catholic population in the country and an unparalleled place in U.S. church history, is shrinking: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Nov. 2 announced that nearly a third of the archdiocese’s 368 parishes would be merging, and some would close.

“This time of transition in the history of the archdiocese will undoubtedly be difficult for people who live in parishes that will merge,” Dolan said in a statement. “There will be many who are hurt and upset as they experience what will be a change in their spiritual lives, and I will be one of them.”

The reorganization was years in the making and some downsizing appeared inevitable, as happened in the last round of cutbacks, in 2007. While the sprawling archdiocese is still home to 2.8 million Catholics, fewer of them are attending Mass or Catholic schools, and costs are rising. The archdiocese said it is spending $40 million a year to prop up failing or redundant parishes.

Still, the extent of the changes, the largest in the more than 200-year history of the archdiocese, upset many Catholics, especially in neighborhoods where waves of immigration had built and revived parishes across the decades.

“I feel very sad; I was baptized here,” Sonia Cintron, 75, a member of the Church of the Holy Rosary in East Harlem, told The New York Times. “Here we’re family; we loved each other.”

Some parishioners have vowed to try to keep their churches open through petitions and protests.

Putting the Immigration Debate in Human Terms

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently stated that people who come into the country unauthorized to find work and support their families are doing so as “an act of love.” In a Miami Herald op-ed, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski is of Miami echoed the idea that this conversation is fundamentally about people:

To demonize irregular migrants as “lawbreakers” certainly generates heat but does not give any light to the urgent task of fixing our broken immigration system. This is not to condone the violation of the law — but as Gov. Bush suggests, these migrants are not criminals. Being in the United States without proper documents is not a criminal felony but a civil misdemeanor.

With his comment, Gov. Bush hit a nerve that runs through the immigration debate… With one three-word phrase, Gov. Bush has helped humanize these migrants — they are human beings who love their families, just as Americans do . This runs counter to the rhetoric of many shrill anti-immigrant voices and reframes the debate in human terms.

Read full article HERE .

Attendees: They Came, They Saw, They Said...

“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.

Our Lady of the Watershed

OUR LADY QUEEN of Peace church sits atop a low bluff overlooking the Army Navy golf course. This vibrant Arlington, Va. Catholic community has a history of staring hopelessness in the eye and declaring, “Not on our standing ground!”

Queen of Peace was founded by African Americans in the midst of virulent segregation. In the 1940s, Arlington’s black Catholics had to travel two hours by buses to attend a Mass where they were welcome. There was a closer church, but black Catholics were relegated to the back pew and prevented from receiving communion before whites. In 1945, 16 families pooled their money, hired a black real estate agent, and purchased small parcels of adjoining property under various names so as to not arouse suspicion. In an era when redlining and “neighborhood covenants” protected white enclaves and economic power, this was a courageous act. A little less than two acres—their standing ground—was purchased for $14,000. The bishop blessed Queen of Peace, Arlington’s first black Catholic congregation, on Pentecost Sunday 1947.

Now, nearly 70 years later, this multicultural community is asking a new question: With global temperatures rising and changes visible everywhere in nature, how do we face the truth of climate change?

During a speaker series in March focused on “the integrity of creation,” I encouraged them to overlap the ecclesial concept of “parish” with the ecological one of “watershed.” For life to persist, there must be living water. Scientists tell us that each watershed, no matter how small, is responsive to climate change. Since human activity has destabilized the climate, changing human activity is important in undoing the harm. And since the earth’s biosphere is made up of interlinked watershed communities, perhaps restoring our particular watershed is analogous to healing the earth at its “cellular” level, which would be a positive contribution.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Catholic Throwback Thursday: Remembering The Other "Bishop Of The Slums"

Remembering Dom Hélder, 1999: The periodical “Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice” wrote of Dom Hélder at the time of his death in 1999: "The gospel is so contrary to the way of the world that it has to be shown, not merely told. Dom Helder Camara is one who showed the way. Helder Camara was the Brazilian Catholic archbishop who became renowned throughout the world as the inspirer of Latin America’s liberation theology movement. Barely five feet tall, Dom Helder never embraced the pomp and ceremony of his rank. He wore a plain brown cassock and a simple wooden cross. As a young priest he served in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. It was here that he first began to speak of the unjust structures of poverty, saying, "When you live with the poor, you realize that, even though they cannot read or write, they certainly know how to think." In 1955, Camara founded CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, the first organization of its kind in the world. In 1960, during the preparatory meetings for Vatican II, Dom Helder brought to Rome the agenda of a "preferential option for the poor." He even suggested that the pope give the Vatican and all its art to the United Nations for its work with the poor, and live in a humble manner as bishop of Rome. Camara himself refused the episcopal mansion, choosing instead a modest three-room house behind the church in Recife, Brazil. When Mother Teresa asked him how he managed to maintain his humility, Camara replied that he had just to imagine himself making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem—not as Jesus, but as the ass. Dom Helder Camara died on August 27, 1999, at age 90, lying in his hammock surrounded by his closest friends. We offer these memories of Dom Helder from more of his "friends," far and wide. —The Editors”

One Year In: The Joyful Surprise Of Pope Francis

Today the world celebrates Pope Francis' first year. Notice I didn't say the church is celebrating, but the world. The pope has graced the covers of every magazine from TIME to Rolling Stone over the past year. People all over the world are delighted by the breath of fresh air he has brought. His popularity has moved beyond Catholics to Christians of all kinds, believers from other faith traditions, agnostics, and the "nones," who are very drawn to this pope who emphasizes love and simple living.

Questions and Answers About Ash Wednesday

Rev. John G. Vlasny, archbishop of Portland, performs the Ash Wednesday ceremony. Photo by Michael Lloyd. Via RNS

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. For Christians, Lent is a 40-day season of fasting, reflection, and penance culminating in Holy Week and the Easter Sunday commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection.

The Rev. Arne Panula, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., said his experience is that more people go to church on Ash Wednesday than any other holiday, including Christmas and Easter.

Here are a few basics on the Ash Wednesday tradition.

Are Those Really St. Peter’s Bones on Display at the Vatican?

St. Peter in Prison (The Apostle Peter Kneeling). Photo courtesy Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

When Pope Francis cradled the small box said to contain nine bone fragments believed to be the mortal remains of St. Peter, the first pope, he fanned the flames of a long-standing debate over the authenticity of ancient church relics.

Most old churches in Italy contain some ancient relic, ranging from a glass tube said to hold the blood of St. Gennaro in Naples to a section of what is believed to be Jesus’ umbilical cord in the Basilica of St. John of Lateran in Rome. Perhaps the most famous religious relic in Italy — the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be Jesus’ burial cloth — will go on display again in early 2015, and Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia this week invited Pope Francis to attend its public debut.

But St. Peter’s bones are of particular importance, since they are the very basis — both architecturally and spiritually — for Catholicism’s most important church. And yet the bones were only discovered during a series of excavations in the 1940s, almost 1,900 years after Peter died, in either 64 or 67 A.D.