Can the Pope Keep Hispanics in the Catholic Church?

23 September, 2015

The Spanish-language service at the Roman Catholic Saint Elizabeth church in New York City attracts a crowd, even midweek.

Many of the church's members are new immigrants from majority Catholic countries in Latin America.

Pope Francis is surrounded as he arrives for a meeting at the San Jose school stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay on July 11, 2015.
Pope Francis is surrounded as he arrives for a meeting at the San Jose school stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay on July 11, 2015.

A recent study found that almost 90 percent of Hispanic Americans have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church will visit the city this week.

Sister Celia Cid says Pope Francis, a son of immigrants, understands the needs of Hispanic Americans.

"He identifies with the struggles on many different nationalities, different countries and what they are going through," she said. "It's a great hope for me to have him come because this city is a melting pot. It is a city built on immigrants."

But almost 25 percent of Hispanic Americans are now former Catholics. Some leave for evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Others just slowly withdraw from the Catholic Church.

Father Ambiorix Rodriguez is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. He was raised in Manhattan where he is now a priest. Father Rodriguez told VOA that Pope Francis has an answer. He said the Pope advises Catholic spiritual leaders to go out and connect with people outside of the church building.

"He is telling the church we can no longer stay inside, self-enclosed, worrying about who we have, who is here, but no, the church needs to go out," Father Rodriguez said.

Young adults make up the largest group of Hispanics leaving Catholicism. Today, many people under the age of 30 describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

Alias is a young Catholic Church member who is invigorated by the Pope's openness.

He said, "If the Catholics who have drifted are based on ‘Oh, you don't understand me,' or 'It's too complicated,' or 'I'm tired of traditional habits,' the Pope is actually saying, ‘You know what? I am moving forward.'"

Alias also said the pope's use of social media to connect with the next generation is one way he is keeping young people invested and interested. Pope Francis is the most-followed world leader on Twitter, a popular social-media site. His user name is @Pontifex.

"The youth are the future people of tomorrow. They are ones who are going to keep this church alive," Alias said. "If the youth are not being influenced or moved by it, you're going to lose a lot of members because it starts there," he said.

The Pew Research Center study says that almost 33 percent of American Catholics are Hispanic. The study also found that Hispanics are leaving the religion at a high rate. In 2010, 67 percent of Hispanic Americans identified themselves as Catholic. By 2013 that percentage had dropped to 55 percent.

I'm Jim Tedder.

VOA correspondent Daniela Schrier reported this story from New York City. Caty Weaver wrote it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in this Story

nationality – n. a group of people who share the same history, traditions, and language, and who usually live together in a particular country

evangelical – adj. of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible, the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin or hell, and the preaching of these beliefs to other people

priest – n. a person who has the authority to lead or perform ceremonies in some religions and especially in some Christian religions

unaffiliated – adj. not connected with something (such as a program or organization) as a member or partner

invigorate ­– v. to give strength or energy to

drift – v. to change slowly from one state or condition to another