The stuffed pepper causing the stutter is the hottest menu item at St. Cecilia’s Lenten fish fry in St. Louis, Missouri. Chile rellenos, a traditional Mexican dish, have replaced fish as the main draw for Catholics giving up meat on Fridays. This century-old parish founded by German immigrants has turned 85 percent Hispanic.
“It’s the browning of the Catholic Church in the United States,” says Pedro Moreno Garcia, who until last month led the Hispanic ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Moreno Garcia points to St. Cecilia’s Spanish-dominant Mass schedule as a sign of the times.
“Hispanics are the present and Hispanics are the future of the Catholic Church in the United States,” says Moreno Garcia.
One-third of all Catholics in the United States are now Latinos thanks to immigration and higher fertility rates, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. While St. Cecilia’s parish has relished the growth, elsewhere, the Latino population boom has rocked the pews.
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One archdiocese parish that is struggling with the Latino influx is Holy Trinity in St. Ann, Missouri, a suburban community with an affordable housing stock that has prompted a population shift in the last decade. Video Pedro Moreno Garcia is working to bridge language barriers, divisions »
Separate Sunday morning Masses in English and in Spanish at Holy Trinity are creating division among the devout.
“We’re two separate parishes operating under one roof,” says Parish Council President Gina Shocklee.
“I refer to it as Holy Trinity Catholic Church, and then there’s Holy Trinity Hispanic Church,” says council member Jody Tedeschi, who worries the separate Masses promote segregation.
Holy Trinity’s parish council has spent the past year looking for ways to bridge the divide with limited success.
Part of that complicated picture is the family of Mexican-born Angelica Garcia, the new face of Holy Trinity. She has lived in the United States for 18 years; Holy Trinity has been her parish for the last four.
“When I come to Mass at noon, the Anglos leave, and [Latinos] go in and we don’t even say ‘hi’ to each other, not even ‘hi,'” says Garcia. “Sometimes I think there is a wall, but that wall exists only because we don’t have enough faith.”
A majority of Latino churchgoers in the United States attend Mass with mostly Latinos in the pew and Spanish-speaking clergy at the pulpit, according to a 2006 Pew Forum survey. Today, 15 percent of priests ordained in the United States are Latinos, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.