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Jewish Journal

The vanishing American Catholic

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 20, 2008 | 1:16 pm

The changing landscape of American Catholicism—the fact that 1.3 million Latino Catholics have joined Pentecostal churches since immigrating—is considered the elephant in the room for the future of the church. Still, it’s story that has been told before, and in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States this week, and maybe in order to fill all that copy dedicated to his trip, it’s being told again here.

“I feel whole here,” Mrs. Calazans, 42, said one recent Sunday in the Astoria sanctuary, the Portuguese Language Pentecostal Missionary Church, as she swayed to the pop-rock beat of a live gospel band. “This church is not a place we visit once a week. This church is where we hang around and we share our problems and we celebrate our successes, like we were family.”

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For if Latinos are feeding the population of the church, many have also turned to Pentecostalism, a form of evangelical Christianity that stresses a personal, even visceral, connection with God.

Today, it has more Latino followers in the United States than any other denomination except Catholicism; they are drawn, they say, by the faith’s joyous worship, its use of Latino culture and the enveloping sense of community it offers to newcomers. As the Pew survey revealed, half of all Latinos who have joined Pentecostal denominations were raised as Catholics.

They are part of a global shift. Pentecostalism, the world’s fastest-growing branch of Christianity, has made such sharp inroads in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, that in an address to bishops there last year, Pope Benedict listed its ardent proselytizing as one of the major forces the Catholic Church must contend with in the region.

Benedict’s visit concludes today with a packed Mass at Yankees Stadium.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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