Skip to comments.Keeping the flock faithful (Catholic priests in battle with Evangelicals for their flock)
Posted on 01/05/2008 7:06:01 AM PST by NYer
WIMAUMA - Father Demetrio Lorden walks into the garage of a concrete block house, slips on his robe and vestments, and unpacks a gold chalice.
He tests a microphone, and as dogs howl nearby, a small group of Hispanic workers and their families launches into a discordant song of praise.
Lorden calls this his "evangelism Mass," the one he has every Monday night in houses and mobile home camps of the Wimauma immigrant community.
Like other Catholic priests with Hispanic members, Lorden is trying to fend off competitors for the parishioners in his pews.
Protestant evangelists - people just as dedicated as he is, but with a quite different approach to Christianity - are aggressively recruiting on his turf. Some target workers as they labor in the fields; others approach them in their homes or at local bodegas, grocery stores.
Catholic priests like Lorden are responding with outreach and Bible studies, hoping to hold on to this large and growing population.
"Hispanic immigrants need to know someone is there caring for them," said Lorden, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe church. "But one of the things that pushed me to do that fervently and constantly was because ... other churches and denominations are visiting them and proselytizing them."
Sometimes Lorden's home-based Masses are the only contact workers have with the Catholic church, said Alejandro Lopez, 34, a construction worker who attended Lorden's service on a recent Monday night.
For those who can't make Sunday Mass because of work, Lorden's service helps sustain their faith, especially during hard times, Lopez said.
"It makes you feel better," he said.
The majority of Hispanics in the United States, or 68 percent, still call themselves Catholics. Of those who leave the Catholic church, most become Pentecostal or evangelical Christians or they leave religion all together, according to a national study released this year by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Some Catholic priests acknowledge that Protestant sects like the Pentecostals have responded faster and more aggressively to immigrants with aid and tight-knit worship circles in Spanish.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Jose Luis Correa, a Pentecostal pastor in Dover, handed out pamphlets with some church members as they walked through the parking lots of small Hispanic grocery stores or food stores with Hispanic patrons.
Then, they visited a mobile home park nestled between strawberry fields and railroad tracks. Many residents did not answer the door or weren't home. Others politely took the pamphlets and said they would come to church.
Sometimes, Correa said, he approaches them in the fields with water. Often he brings them clothes and food.
"We tell them we believe God will provide for their needs," said Correa, of Assembly of God or Templo Cristiano. "You're not going to reach them by being on a pulpit or sitting in an office."
Correa tackles their personal problems: marital disputes, alcoholism - a service sometimes lacking in the Catholic church.
For some immigrants like Edin Gonzalez, a 25-year-old Guatemalan carpenter who left most of his family behind, the church has become an instant community.
"It's like my second home. It's my family," he said.
* * *
When Hispanic converts from the Catholic church join Protestant sects, they let go of their attachment to the saints, religious images and Mary, the mother of Jesus, Correa said.
"We don't worship idols," he said.
Catholic priests bristle at the accusation and say Protestant evangelizers are tearing Hispanics away from their culture and faith.
"There's almost like a whole campaign to bring down the blessed Mother like she's the anti-Christ," said Father Carlos Rojas of St. Clement Catholic Church in Plant City.
Rojas, of Puerto Rican decent, said Hispanic Catholics, particularly Mexican Catholics, are very devoted to Mary.
They believe Mary, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, appeared to a Mexican Indian peasant named Juan Diego in 1531. Juan Diego's story contributed greatly to Catholicism's spread in Mexico.
Recently, in a mix of religion and culture, St. Clement held a three-day festival and a two-day vigil to mark the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe that included Aztec dancers, mariachi bands and statues of the Virgin Mary.
The festival, which took place at the Plant City Stadium, drew 3,000 people, the first time it was held on such a large scale.
And it was yet another effort to cement the Catholic church's historical presence in the Hispanic community.
St. Clement, like other Catholic churches, started a Bible study for its Hispanic members in part to counter Protestant evangelizers, shifting from a tradition that left Bible readings and interpretations to priests.
"When you are entering into dialogue with other religions and people who are attacking the Catholic church, there is a need to have Bible studies," Rojas said. "If you are asked this question, here is a way you can respond."
Juan Gomez, pastor of the Church of God, a Protestant church in Wimauma, said his members don't attack Catholics. They just worship differently.
"We believe that (Mary) was a beautiful woman of God, but in terms of redemption, Christ is the one in terms of intercession, Christ is the interceder, not Mary, as they believe," said Gomez, who converted from Catholicism to the Church of God at 15 after immigrating to Ruskin from Mexico.
Gomez said he questions the Juan Diego story and the Catholic blending of religion with Hispanic culture.
But ultimately, newcomers aren't forced to stay in his church. If they don't like the spirited form of worship and Bible study, they go elsewhere.
"We try to bring people to a deeper relationship with Christ," he said. "It will always be up to the people."
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2441.
Clear differences between the two
The battle for Hispanic faithful continues to brew between Catholics and Protestants, with both sides increasingly stepping up their recruitment efforts. Among the Protestant denominations, the Pentecostals have been particularly aggressive. Here are some major differences between Catholics and Protestants.
|PROTESTANTS vsCATHOLICS |
Believe the sacrament, or communion, is symbolic. Believe the sacrament istransformed into the body and blood of Christ.
Have no supreme hierarchy such as a pope. Believe in the infallibility of the pope.
Many churches, particularly Pentecostals, embrace aspirited worship style. Embrace a liturgical worship style.
Allow women to pastor and become bishops. Allow only men to become priests and bishops.
See no need for a priest to serve as a mediator between them and God. Revere Mary and the saints and ask them for intercession. Require confession before a priest.
Source: Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg
Prayerful support of these priests, ping!
—they oughtta check out what’s happened in much of South America-—
At the same time Latin America has opened up to the idea of "religious freedom" in recent decades, so many recent Hispanics are already Protestant when they arrive.
If the Catholics could figure out how to increase the numbers of priests so they could better serve this growing community in the United States, I'm sure they could continue to attract Hispanic Catholics.
Yet I know that "The Good News is preached to the poor" is one of the "signs" of the Kingdom of God----so I admire the zeal of the Pentecostals and Evangelicals who are reaching out to the poor and the stranger.
So let's try to out-do each other in faith, hope, and love, drawing closer to Christ and helping others drew closer to Christ. A vast competition in doing good. Wouldn't that cause a jigging celebration amongst the angels of heaven?
It is true that many immigrant Latin Americans view becoming Protestant as sort of assimilation to US ways. But Evangelicals and Pentecostals have a very bad retention rate in Latin America, and you will often read articles in their publications lamenting this or wondering about it. Often, Protestantism is just the gateway to things ranging from Islam to unbelief.
Evangelical churches are very personality-driven, and groups will form around one charismatic pastor and either disband if he leaves, or suddenly change their minds and follow an even more charismatic pastor. Also, Protestant churches poach on each other in Latin America, so people are always being “converted” to another church. Unless, of course, like the Indians in Chiapas, the ex-Pentecostals meet Muslim missionaries and become Muslim.
Leaving the Church is a very dangerous thing, and I think that particularly among the not very well educated, it often leads to a loss of Christianity altogether.
Note ~ there are OTHER Pentecostal movements, not just that one.
>Protestant evangelists - people just as dedicated as he is, but with a quite different approach to Christianity - are aggressively recruiting on his turf.
Wow! I thought West Side Story was about forbidden love! (Great, now I have “I’m So Pretty” stuck in my head...)
>Allow women to pastor and become bishops.
Um...no. Why would this author take such a stab at the Anglican Church? I thought that was the closest denomination to the Roman one.
In Protestant Churches, Scriptural authority would not allow for a female to be a priest or ‘bishop’. To step outside the bounds of Scripture is to leave the Protestant realm, just as to allow abortion supporters to participate in mass is to step outside the Roman realm.
If we stick to being the best Catholics we know how to be and if we pray for vocations, I ain't gonna worry.
But I AM going to do penance for the massively culpable way the Church south of the Rio Grande has behaved sometimes.
When my former pastor and I started offering to provide sacramental ministries right in the migrant worker camps around here, the leaders of the camps greeted us with less than overwhelming enthusiasm, which confused us.
Then it finally surfaced that they thought we were going to CHARGE them for these services!
Madre de Dios!
It's as if the Bishops south of the Border forgot what their call was, and decided to monetize the martyrdom of their predecessors.
They do. But even here, when you look at Pentecostalism in the US South, for example, where it really took hold after spreading out from California, you see thousands of little churches, many of them with tiny and aging congregations.
Pentecostal churches are founded on emotion and personality, and the problem is that there is no substance: they offer little in the way of ethical or moral teachings, nothing in the way of intellectual formation, philosophy, etc. So when people move beyond the very basic emotional level where the appeal of Pentecostalism is located, there’s no place for them to go (except out of Christianity altogether). I think we see this phenomenon among native-born black Pentecostals in this country.
Catholic Charismatic movements were successful at keeping Hispanics in the Church, because once they passed through the emotional high that they longed for, there was still the Church with its 2000 years of Christianity for them to explore. One of the big problems in Latin America, of course, was the leftist Catholic clergy, who regard the whole undertaking as a giant social welfare project, and thus simply abandoned the religious aspect altogether. So one really can’t blame Catholics there for looking in other places for some sense of the religious dimension.
Fortunately, I think this is changing. The Pope recently spoke politely but firmly to the Latin American bishops about their lefty-social-worker “Aparecida Statement” (made at the time of his visit to Brazil), reminding them that their duties were to preach and teach the Faith, and not some set of leftwing platitudes.
And thank God for that...They got all that 'religion' out the way and can now focus on Jesus...
You spent a lot of time in Pectacostal churches, have ya??? I have...If you have, I'd have to say you must sleep during the teaching and services...
nothing in the way of intellectual formation, philosophy, etc.
This must boggle your mind:
1Co 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
And here's what God thinks of your philosophy:
Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
You really think God honors a religion where intellectuals and philosophers reign supreme???
What, his right leg and left arm speak Spanish. Egad!
No, he honors those that follow the instructions of Christ. That means belonging to the Church he founded. You lack the full faith in Christ and for that I’m sorry for you.
I will pray you one day lay down your hatred for Christ and his Church and come home.
Catholic bump. These people will come home to the one, holy, Catholic and apostlic church when they realize the importance of the Holy Eucharist in their lives.
Something is missing in the other churches! And it’s the REAL PRESENCE and the Mass!
Jesus did not found your religion...That's the claim of your religion, not Jesus Christ...Your religion in no way resembles the True Body of Christ...
I will pray you one day lay down your hatred for Christ and his Church and come home.
Don't waste your time...Jesus knows his sheep and you don't even know if you are one of the Sheep, until you find out if you make it to purgatory...If you endure to the end (of something)...
Jesus wouldn't hear it anyway...Because you pray to Mary or a dead person instead of God and you don't even have a clue whether that dead person is in heaven or hell...And you don't believe in a literal heaven or hell anyway...
ELCA Lutherans, Methodists, and others aren't Protestants anymore?
We don't? I must have missed that particular lesson.
I have a suggestion. Why don't you let us describe our own beliefs, instead of trying to tell us what we believe (and getting it wrong). That way they aren't filtered through the lens of your, uh, objectivity.
You really think God gave us brains so we could avoid using them?
Protestant bigot quoted in the article: “We don’t worship idols,” he said.
Neither do we, moron.
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