According to polls, Connecticut is one of the least religious states in the nation. What does this mean for religious Latinos, who are more likely to identify as faithful than the general population?
Local religious leaders said that while they generally feel goodwill from people in Connecticut, there is a less tolerant climate for people of faith than there was in the past.
Richard Pinero, senior pastor for the New London district of Seventh-day Adventist churches, came to Connecticut three years ago from Southern Illinois. While describing Connecticut as “friendly” and “open,” he said he has seen a general erosion in the attitude toward people who express their faith publicly.
“Proselytizing – or sharing faith – that is no longer a friendly term here within our nation,” he said. “If I’m animated about something, something significant to me, I’m going to seek to share that.”
Bishop Emeritus Peter Rosazza, a long-time Catholic religious leader in Connecticut, said the environment today is less hospitable for religious people than it was when he was first ordained a priest 53 years ago.
“At one time people had more respect for religion and religious positions,” he said. “Now they want freedom from religion.”
While Latinos are more likely to identify as religious, Rosazza said he didn’t see a difference between Latinos and other ethnicities in their church attendance. Most attend church for baptism, marriage, funerals and religious holidays, but not necessarily for daily or weekly services, he said.
He said recent immigrants are more likely to express their faith openly.
“Religion is just part of their life – they just breathe it,” he said. “They’ve been a great source of spirituality for this country. For me too, personally. They lift your spirits.”
Delores Lopez Hardy leads the regional women’s organization in Hartford for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said her parents joined the Mormon Church in Mexico when she was young, then she moved to the U.S. in her 20s.
She was told before moving to New England that it was less open and friendly than other parts of the country, and she said she initially found that to be the case.
“But someone also told me before I left that it’s going to be whatever you make it, and that it’s up to me to take the initiative,” she said.
Hardy said she’s grown to love Connecticut, and she and her husband raised their three children here.
She said most of the people she meets here are not religious, and many think it’s strange that she attends three hours of church on Sunday. The Mormon Church is currently building a temple in Farmington, and Hardy said it’s given her the opportunity to talk to people about her faith.
“They do respect my religion,” she said. “Even if they’re not religious.”
Hardy said it was difficult at times for her children, who didn’t have many friends at school who were Mormon. She said she worked to keep them involved by bringing them to youth meetings and interacting with other young members of their church.
Pinero said he is working on a dissertation on how Latino parents can instill faith in their U.S.-born children. Children want to fit in, and they face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives, he said.
Young people are much less likely to affiliate with religious institutions, and are less likely to say they believe in God. The same holds true for Latino youth.
“It’s important that we try to develop something to get to their hearts, so they understand the positive power of religious institutions,” said Pinero.
He said the Seventh-day Adventist Church is reaching out to youth in a number of ways, including having youth speakers at church, holding meetings for youth where they can express their concerns openly, and sponsoring regional conferences like one this past week in Portland, Maine, where teens gathered to perform acts of community service and participate in a compassion rally.
“It gives them the opportunity to practice their faith in a more open way, and a more socially significant way,” he said. “Not necessarily with a Bible in hand, but with a hammer, a rake, a paintbrush.”
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By Suzanne Bates CTLatinoNews.com