I have a pet theory about the educational value of the printed page. Newspaper stories tell us what happened; books why it happened; and features stories a bit of both.
Sherri Day of the St. Petersburg Times wrote an interesting story about the response of older Hispanic Catholics to the fact that many young Hispanics are leaving their ancestral faith; it’s not often that readers learn about the perspective of those who did not convert. So she informed us about what happened, but she failed to explain why their children are converting or thinking about doing so.
Day traced the religious lives of three women. Aida Aviles is the grandmother of five children, two of whom left the Catholic Church to become Protestants. In a memorable passage, Day describes the religious squabbles and awkwardness that has ensued:
One of Aviles’ sisters has an antagonistic relationship with her now-Protestant progeny. In another branch of the family, a niece divorced her Pentecostal husband. Among other things, the couple fought over bringing a crucifix into their home, family members said. Relations with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the clan also have made family celebrations awkward. Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays or observe holidays they believe have pagan origins or nationalist roots.
Aviles’ sister, Maria Rodriguez, has succeeded in keeping her children Catholic. Yet Rodriguez is clearly no ordinary person. Besides being quite perceptive, she is a leader, as Day explains:
[Rodriguez] recognizes the attraction of spirited Protestant worship services and currently leads the Hispanic charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Catholic churches around the country are encouraging charismatic prayer ministries featuring practices traditionally associated with Pentecostals such as healings, laying hands and speaking in tongues.
The effort has become a lifeline to reach family and friends who might abandon the faith.”I do whatever it takes to keep them at home,” said Rodriguez, 57, a lay minister. “I say ‘home’ because it’s like losing a family member when they leave the Catholic Church.”
Flormarie Sanchez, Aviles’ daughter, explains that Catholicism no longer has appeal for her. As Day explains,
But Sanchez grew tired of straddling the fence, attending church both with her husband and her mother. She began to see the Catholic Mass as a predictable, uninspiring ritual. And she could not escape feeling called to worship with her family in the Protestant church.
Day’s story is organized around the lives of the three women, all related. But perhaps it should have been organized around the allure of more “low” worship styles — singing and clapping, laying of hands, speaking in tongues.
Day failed to explain the attraction of these more emotional and personal forms of worship. Indeed, only after the story has ended do readers learn a crucial statistic: 83 percent of Hispanics convert away from Catholicism because they “desire a more direct, personal experience of God.”
I got questions but no answers. What is it about contemporary American life that causes millions of Hispanics to seek a more personal God? Why are Hispanics today searching for more emotional and personal forms of worship? Why didn’t their parents and grandparents of yesteryear? And what about the millions of Catholics who are embracing Pentecostalism — in Catholic sanctuaries?
Day did a great job in elucidating the faith lives of her interview subjects. But she really needed to tell her readers, at least by quoting a professor or two, about the appeal of low-church worship styles.