B16: American Hispanics get ready

Neocatechumenal WayOne of the biggest stories in American Catholicism is the growth of the church through the southern migration of Hispanics. What that means for the Catholic Church in America is difficult to say at this point, but reporters should be able to get a few solid ideas with the pope's visit to Washington, D.C., this week. Here is The New York Times perspective on a Texas family of "ardent Roman Catholics" taking a 1,600-mile journey of their own to hopefully see the pope. The story gives the reader six paragraphs of scene setting before getting to the point of the story:

With the church struggling to stem an erosion of faith in the face of secularism and scandal, the fast-growing Hispanic population of Texas and the Southwest has long been a major bulwark of Roman Catholicism in America -- and an avid constituency for Pope Benedict's visit.

The Pequenos and their fellow pilgrims are a particularly ardent band. They are followers of the Neocatechumenal Way, a communitarian church movement, founded in Spain in the 1960s and accepted by the Vatican, that emphasizes a return to early Christian roots, evangelism, intense religious practice and sacrifice.

The Pequenos' house is filled with Bibles and Christian images. Over the fireplace hangs a copy of an icon by the Spanish painter Francisco (Kiko) Arguello, who co-founded the movement.

The story is really about the lives of people going to see the Pope. I suppose it is possible that this family represents Hispanic Catholics in America, but there is little in the story that explores this trend in any depth. Hispanics make up one-third of American Catholics, and the number rapidly growing. A personal perspective on the Pope's visit is wonderful, but it fails to connect the personal story with the larger issues, such as the growing numbers of Christians in non-Western cultures and immigration trends and policies.

The BBC on the other hand, in a similar story, examined the significance of the development in a first person account from reporter Kevin Connolly:

Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says that is simply evidence of an old historical pattern repeating itself in a new community.

"The growth (of Hispanic influence) has really been since the major changes in US immigration policy in the mid 60s, so it really would once have been very much a European Catholic church: Irish, Italian, German influence," he says.

"Clearly now, it's the Latino's turn to become part of the Catholic Church which has always been a Church of immigration." . . .

We already know that the Pope won't be heading for Chimayo -- not this time around anyway -- and in a way, it's a shame.

If he wanted to get a feeling for how the American Church will look in the future - more Hispanic, more charismatic, more populist and perhaps more mystical - he could do worse than to travel into New Mexico's mountains to see for himself.

The personal editorializing-style aside, the story takes an outsider's perspective toward a complicated story that skillfully merges immigration, religion and cultural issues in a way that makes sense of it all.

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