The "Martin Luther Moment" of the Hispanic Community? Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 05 April 2007 08:31
Another article about the large numbers of American Hispanics leaving the Catholic church for other faiths. Nothing new in and of itself, but I am blogging about this one because there were some striking quotes that we would do well to ponder (not swallow wholesale or just react to but really critically meditate upon to begin identify the possible truths and distortions involved.)

"Today, around 70 percent of U.S. Latinos identify themselves as Catholic, compared to 90 percent 30 years ago.

"The longer they are in this country," said Edwin Hernandez of the University of Notre Dame, "the more likely they'll leave the Catholic Church. We know that and we're able to track that"

There are 43 million Latinos in the country, and 15 million identify themselves as born again, according to the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

"Latin America never experienced the reformation until now," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Latino Christian organization.

"What you're seeing is the Protestant reformation, the Martin Luther moment of the Hispanic community," Rodriguez said. "For the first time, they're a product of personal relationship with God. They're able to read the Scripture and apply it personally on a practical basis. They're going Pentecostal, and in a nutshell, it's all about personal power".

And evangelical establishments run by Spanish-speaking ministers are leading the way in the Pajaro Valley, appealing to immigrants who are either down on their luck or determined to change their sinful ways.

Felipe Piña, a member of the small La Iglesia del Rey in Las Lomas, a Southern Baptist church, was born Catholic. He was baptized with holy water in a centuries-old church in the Mexican border town of San Luis de Colorado, but he broke away from the "formality of Catholicism" and found comfort in being born again seven years ago.

Since then, Piña has undergone a massive metamorphosis — from a criminal who snuck illegal immigrants across the Arizona desert to a born-again Baptist who now washes cars to fund his missionary work.

"I used to make $10,000 a week doing what I did. I was living life big, but I was also living dangerously and in sin," said the 40-year-old Piña, a father of four. "I was drinking. I was doing drugs. Then I began to abuse my wife. I started hanging out with prostitutes. My wife tried to kill herself, and that's when I knew I had to change"

The Pajaro Valley, with a population that is 75 percent Latino, sports many one-time Catholics who now belong to other denominations — whether it's Jehovah's Witnesses in Las Lomas, the Calvary Christian Center, the Church of God or Iglesia Santa Pentecostes Templo Jerusalem, all in Watsonville.

George Rodriguez, a former Catholic who is now a Jehovah's Witness for the South Spanish Congregation in Las Lomas, said it has added structure to his life.

"It gives me guidance that I didn't have as a Catholic. It's based on the Bible and not the sort of tradition and philosophies that have filtered into so many other faiths," said Rodriguez, 30, a salesman from Salinas who remembers when he switched faiths: Dec. 19, 1998.

"There was about eight of us and we were at a gathering outside of Madera," he said. "We all submerged ourselves in a swimming pool, just as Jesus did in the Jordan River"

While Catholic churches try provide the same sorts of services, they are often limited by time and resources.

"One of the things that I've found challenging with the Spanish-speaking communities is trying to encourage leadership from within," said the Rev. Mark Stetz of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz. "... I think in other denominations there's less reliance on priests and it's more lay-led"

Piña, for example, helps host Christian rock concerts and is dealing with gang members trying to turn their lives around through the church-run program called "Terremoto," or "Earthquake" in Spanish.

He receives help from the church's senior pastor, Joel Jimenez, a self-described former "gangbanger" who was raised Catholic but turned his life around nearly three decades ago after his baby died.

Today, he's 48 and is director of the Central Coast Baptist Association in Gilroy.

"You have to repent and confess your sins," Jimenez said. "But it's more than just saying 'I repent.' You have to turn away from your sins, once and for all. That's the goal"

Personal relationship with God. Personal power. Metamorphosis.

Such a complex and ambiguous mixture of themes.

My question: what would a deeply Catholic understanding of these three ideas look like? How is it really good news for people whose lives are difficult, deeply disfunctional, or in chaos?

And that stunning comment about the "Martin Luther moment of the Hispanic community" with it's aura of Protestant trimphalism?

The odd thing is that the challenge of the Reformation, after a century of chaos and civil war, resulted in a new and very creative and effective Catholic springtime in the 17th century, sometimes called the "generation of saints."

The thing that has struck me in studying the great saints and apostles of the 17th century Catholic renaissance is that none of them were trying to restore or recreate the middle ages. Their sources were the Tradition, the recent council (Trent) and the very real challenges before them but they were essentially future-oriented.

Some of the new things that come down to us from their evangelistic and apostolic creativity are:

  • 40 hours Adoration
  • Parish missions
  • Retreat centers and retreats for the laity
  • A whole new understanding and appreciation for the spirituality and possible sanctity of the laity
  • Understanding of sacramental preparation and essential catechesis was tremendously expanded and implemented by the many new religious communities.
  • Evangelization. Some modern scholars contend that large parts of rural France weren't evangelized until the new efforts at rural evangelization in the 17th century.
  • The seminary and a revival and transformation of the diocesan priesthood.
  • The Catholic school system and the first religious communities that dedicated themselves to education, religious and secular.
  • Active religious communities for women
  • A missionary explosion, which included lay men and women and that set the stage for a truly global Catholicism
  • An explosion of charitable works and organizations by both religious and laity.
By most measures, the state of the church in western Europe was much improved in 1700 compared to its condition in 1500.

Apparently "Martin Luther moments" can have many outcomes. If we answer God's call and rise to the challenge.

Your thoughts?