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Beliefnet News

Why are U.S. Hispanic Catholics joining Pentecostal, Evangelical churches?

Although their numbers have revitalized many Catholic parishes, Hispanic living in the United States are turning into Baptists and Pentecostals at surprising rates.

Some say that in Latin America, their families would not tolerate investigating other Christian faiths. However, living in America, the old barriers are gone — and Spanish-speaking Americans are checking out the Evangelicals.

“You can see evidence of that in the Assemblies of God, once a historically white, suburban Pentecostal denomination,” reports Barbara Bradley Hagerty for National Public Radio. “When you walk into the denomination’s largest church, it’s sensory overload: The auditorium is jam-packed with hundreds of Latino worshipers singing in Spanish, swaying and dancing.”

Over the last decade, Chicago’s New Life Covenant Church has grown from 68 members to more than 4,000. It has had to scramble to find somewhere to meet — and has planted a number of satellite congregations in surrounding neighborhoods.

“When you include the other churches New Life has started, its membership comes to some 12,000 people,” reports Hagerty.

The Rev. Wilfredo de Jesus

The Rev. Wilfredo de Jesus says Latinos are saving American Christianity. “No doubt, every denomination would have decreased in membership,” he told NPR, “if it had not been for Hispanic growth, including our fellowship, the Assemblies of God.”

On Sunday morning, the thousands streaming into New Life’s sanctuary are black, white and Asian, as well as Hispanic.

“Most, like de Jesus, are second-generation Latinos,” reports Hagerty. “Three of four services are in English. Indeed, much of the church’s growth is fueled by Hispanic-Americans shedding the faith of their parents.

De Jesus says it’s not difficult to spot the Catholics. “People come to the church, and I’m in the lobby area, greeting visitors — and they say, ‘Hey Father, thank you for the Mass today.’ I know where they’re coming from.” They’re coming from Catholicism.

Polls by the Pew Research Center show that fewer than 60 percent of second-generation Latinos are Catholic, notes Hagerty: “and the ones who leave Catholicism head for the more boisterous evangelical churches, like New Life.”

Why? Isaac Vega says was frustrated with the authoritarianism of priests, who believe they should serve as intermediaries between him and God. Vega says he prefers to have a personal relationship with the Almighty. “I felt like my personal relationship with God — I was seeking more, and I needed more. And there was kind of like a glass ceiling. I was hitting something that wasn’t allowing me to grow, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was.”

That’s why most Latinos leave Catholicism, Pew researchers found.

Natalie Ochoa says that New Life’s style — urban, gritty, flavored with Latino exuberance — is pushing the boundaries of the conservative Assemblies of God. “Some of the Pentecostal churches, looking at New Life,” she says, seem to think, ” ‘Oh, you guys are like, rebels,’ or like, ‘You guys are too wild,’ or ‘The way the women dress.’ And I’m sure there’s probably controversy in that, but I definitely think we’ve raised the bar.”

Yet, notes Hagerty, “leaders in every denomination have to recognize that this is their destiny, says Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. For proof, he says, just look at the recent census projections. “We got a postcard from the future,” Lugo says. “And it told us that in the not-too-distant future, this country is going to be minority white. So, the future of many religious traditions in this country will depend upon the second-generation Latinos.”

  • http://Mr.Vegahasgotitwrong Dee

    Isaac Vega states that Catholics are leaving the Church because of the authoritarism of priests who believe themselves intermediaries between God and men. Okay, that’s YOUR perception but that doesn’t make it truth. Priests are servants of the People of God but they do have a measure of authority to manage the flock. They serve by Jesus’ divine will, they serve the Church, the weak and fallible Body of Christ.
    You’re not the first, and won’t be the last, who didn’t like what Jesus was saying so twisted his intent to do what you want to do.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment CALVIN


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Perez

    To the catholics that are leaving the catholic church because they did not feel they had a relationship with God, had nothing to do with the catholic faith or priest. It had to do with themselves. They were the ones placing a barrier between themselves and our almighty Father. Changing religions or places of worship is not the answer it is merely an excuse to start again, but you see this is the beauty of our mighty God, he gives us chances to start over and over again and it is up to us to stop and listen to his voice. God just waits patiently for us to return and have a true relationship. May God Bless You and I pray that you take ownership of your relationship with God and stop blaming other people for not having that relationship.

  • http://Thanks Jasana

    Thank you Perez you have hit the nail right on the head there have been folks that leave one church go to next then go somehwere else. A personal relation with the Lord is what you seek, jumping churches is definitely not going to help. I hope you all find the presence of the father in your heart.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Barbara Tobolski

    These Hispanics are being sucked in by slick pastors who are greedy for their buck. Catholics have a personal relationship with Christ like no other faith because when they receive Holy Communion they have received Christ into their soul and can talk personally to Him. Anyhow, anyone can have a personal relationship with Christ just by praying to Him. You have to go through the priest because that is the way Christ wants it. He said to Peter whose sins you retain they will be retained and whose sins you shall loose they shall be loosed. That means Christ want us to confess our sins through a priest. Christ also said to Peter, you are the rock upon who I will build my Church. These Hispanics are breaking rules that Christ Himself set up. They are falling for fast talking pastors who keep arming themselves with the words of the Bible and putting their own interpretation into it and leading people astray by the thousands. And the Hispanics who go to other faiths, they should go, because they were never good strong Catholics to begin with. So they should go where they belong and that is to watered down Christianity. Who needs them?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lydia Hernandez

    Brothers and Sisters, as a former Catholic I understood your frustration, later in my walk I (with the Word) learned Peter’s response to Jesus’ question about who he (Jesus) was, “Is” the rock in which He would build His Church. It’s the cornerstone
    of “OUR” relationship with Him. Witnessing/ministering to my relatives I would tell them “why dial the Operator whem you can dial direct”. As we enter the pearlie gates are we going to be directed into seperate areas depending on our church denominations? I don’t think so. oOur focus should be on HIM not on who’s right or wrong, He made us to worship Him, not HE worship us or any one else. we need to see others in His Eyes Not Ours. Try it, you’ll cry at humanity and see what He sees. Love you no matter who you are.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Monk21

    In most languages other than english what Jesus said, ( French) “Thou art Rock and upon this Rock I will build my church” So quit messing up the Bible with your own escape hatches.
    I am impressed by the number of evangelicals who really look into the early church and then come back to the Catholic church.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Monk21

    If you research the early church you will find it very Catholic. Read the “Early Fathers of the church” and find the truth.
    I call these evangelical churches, “feel good churches”
    Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment C. Portillo

    It is an experience only to be understood as you yourself experience it, Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Seek Him and He will open your eyes ask for wisdom and he will give it to you and then without doubt you will understand scripture and have the peace Of God. Certainly you will know you are where God wants you to be. When when stand back and look it is hard to understand, try it for yourself.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Monk21

    There are over 23,000 different understandings of scripture.
    Paul said, ” the church is the piller of truth”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Frustry Catho

    Barbara Tobolski

    Your arguments are typical of Catholic hierachy
    “Do as I say or you’ll go to hell”
    Get a real life. Wake up
    Save souls. Go after the lost sheep, not the 99 pieces of furniture in the church.
    Christianity is to serve not be served.
    We see lots of fast pastors wanting christians for their buck. Ask yourself, is the Catholic church different with all the collections ?

    Wake up

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anto

    That’s no true, our faith is not fear but love and Catholic means universal. Each of us has a personal relationship with God. The priests are intermediaries for the Sacraments, that’s how the Church was born.
    John 20,21-23
    21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment bebe

    Wasn’t the Catholic Church the first church? I think so. I was born & raised Catholic, but, am not a practicing one now. I don’t go to any church. I do pray each night & sometimes during the day. I still believe that He came to save us & that is all that matters to me.

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