To gauge how dramatically things have changed in the Latino community, look no farther than the gold chain around Marisol Medina’s neck.
The necklace, which Medina’s devoutly Roman Catholic mother gave her, once held a cross — which has been replaced by a globe.
“It represents my shift from religion,” says Medina, “to the world, which I now believe in more than the cross or religion.”
Medina, a 24-year-old senior at Florida International University in Miami, was born in Colombia. She was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school. A generation ago, her renunciation of religion would have been rare for anyone of Latin American origin.
The problem for the Catholic Church is that you really can’t call it rare anymore.
According to a study released this month by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., the share of U.S. Latinos, or Hispanics, who identify as Catholic has plummeted from 67 percent to 55 percent in just the past five years. A quarter of Latinos are now lapsed Catholics.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops immigration committee, says the report “shows us that too many Hispanics are still on the periphery of the church and need to be brought in.”
But Pew Center senior researcher Cary Funk sees a more complicated drama: “We were surprised by how much change we saw,” Funk says. “There are pushes and pulls going on among Hispanics that anyone would want to take note of.” It’s no secret that many Latinos have been moving to Protestant churches. But no one expected a Latino Catholic exodus this large and abrupt.
Tim Padgett is WLRN’s Americas editor. To read the rest of this column click here.