More than Half of Young Catholic Families Are Latino Despite Recent Decline
More than half of young Catholic families (53 percent) identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic compared with 32 percent of all Catholics, according to a recent survey. Could the presence of Hispanic families in the Catholic Church indicate Latino congregational growth, or at least the slowing of a once-persistent decline?
A 2014 study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, entitled "The Catholic Family: 21st-Century Challenges in the United States," examined the demographics, faith practices and media usage of 1,014 young families. The study indicated that 80 percent of Catholic children are being raised by married Catholic parents, most of whom are Hispanic/Latino (53 percent). Less than one percent of parents are widowed and 13 percent are single and living with a partner.
The continued presence of the Latino family in the Catholic Church is surprising to some considering recent research from Pew Research Center, which documents a distinct shift in the religious identity of U.S. Latinos away from Catholicism.
According to Pew, nearly one in four Latinos are former Catholics (24 percent), suggesting that religious polarization may be taking place in the Hispanic community. Between 2010 and 2014, there was a 12 percent drop in the number of Hispanics who identified as Catholics.
At the same time, the Evangelical Church has gained favor, apparently due the church's inclusion of social, spiritual and financial empowerment in its gospel teachings, which resonate with Latino churchgoers. The church also supposedly uses its leverage to attempt to persuade Congress on immigration reform.
Nonetheless, many Hispanics in the Pew study decided to forgo religion completely, becoming religiously unaffiliated, self-describing as agnostic or atheist.
However, the Catholic Church's efforts to attract and retain Hispanics has worked to some degree. 38 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. The retention can partly be attributed to Catholic social charities, local parishes and organizations that address immigration reform and assist low-income communities. There are deep ties between the Latino immigrant community and the Catholic Church. Some congregations honor that relationship through vocal support for comprehensive immigration reform and grassroots movements that ensure respect for the human dignity.
Pope Francis will visit the U.S. for the first time this September, and he's expected to address immigration in a speech in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families. The Pope will also offer a historic canonization Mass in Spanish for Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who established mission churches in California. Many believe that Pope Francis can measurably help to slow departures from Catholicism to Evangelicalism in the U.S. and Latin America.
The Georgetown study also found that 42 percent of weekly mass-goers have a child enrolled in parish-based religious education, compared with 27 percent of monthly attendees. Twenty-two percent of parents attend mass weekly, close to the 23 percent of overall Catholic adult population. Additionally, 71 percent of parents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that prayer is essential to their faith. Finally, when they pray, parents most commonly pray for the well-being of their families (83 percent).
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