63% Of Latin Americans living in the United Kingdom are considered to be Catholic. The presence of Hispanic parishioners translates weekly in to more than 1,300 worshipers.
In the premises of the London Latin American Chaplaincy the phone never stops ringing. Many of the callers ask for advice and help finding work, others to continue to profess their faith and some, to be heard and express the harsh reality of living in the British capital.
Latin American immigration, according to the 2011 Census published by Trust For London, symbolises a community of 186,500 individuals. Most of them share a culture, a continent to which they belong, the language, but also religious beliefs.
An investigation carried out by the Queen Mary University, says that 63% of Latin Americans residing in England are Catholic, and that 70% attend regular religious services that are offered on the island.
These results show that Latin Americans continue, despite the migration phenomenon, professing a religion rooted strongly in Latin America. A territory, where in 2010 there lived 432 million Catholics, 47.5 % of the practitioners of this faith around the world.
The high percentage of Hispanic believers in Britain was the centre of attention in 2008 for the British newspaper The Times. The tabloid pointed out the relevance that Latin American immigrants had within the changes of the Catholic Church of England.
In the news was the declaration of the priest Jesús Pérez Recio, who said that “latino Catholicism is alive.” Five years after those words, Carlos Abajos reaffirms them.
The Organization, which it forms part of, performs every week six Eucharist’s in Spanish in different assigned temples, bringing around 1,350 people who “freely access the masses.”
From the different religious centres come hundreds of citizens in order to worship, but also many foreigners in search of charity, legal and employment advice.
A fact that has to do with the hypothesis of Francisco Davis, director of the Van Hugel Institute of studies in Cambridge; “the Church is the first gate that Catholic immigrants call at, the only institution in which they trust.”
Among the parishioners are students, tourists, but the profile of the Latin American practitioner is a young person. It is considered that citizens with lower income, an average of £1,000 pounds per month, are those who attend the services more.
“It was in the 1990s when it saw the need to cater to the Hispanic community that was gaining presence in the country”, explains Abajos.
Although the spiritual care is the basis of the functions of the Congregation, the work of the Latin American Chaplaincy, to a large extent, “is from the doors out.”
“Religion, in exaggerated terms, is as if you lull”, in this way Abajo tells that many Latin Americans, due to their social and labour conditions, “seek hope in religious services.”
“We play an important role so that children can access Catholic schools that Latin Americans want for their infants. We take care of signing and filling in the recommendations required by educational institutions,” said the priest.
Abajos believes that Catholicism “is in the DNA of the Latin American”, and that in the United Kingdom “they are a part”, not an all as it is stated in the U.S., of the consolidation of the Catholic Church in British society.
“They make a style and give colours to Catholicism, but there are also practitioners of other nationalities, such as Poles, Italians and Africans.” But despite the high numbers of Catholics, the high percentage of Latin Americans stands out; some 17% identify themselves as Evangelical Christians.
“I think to contribute 10% of the salary is a very high figure for an immigrant, but many people of this belief feel attended. They are institutions that make much noise, showing a great package, but the important part is inside. How are you going to borrow money from a person who has none?” comments Abajo.
Languages, legal and financial advice, partnership, friendship, are some of the other realities that are offered after a Catholic service. But deportations, have also recently occupied the agenda of parishioners.
“The people believe that they must do something wrong to be expelled from the country. We have had contact with an NGO that has explained, to avoid this bad experience, issues such as voluntary return. The measures of the Government to reduce the saturation of immigrants may seem unjust.”
Abajos declares that their intentions include “to continue expanding the faith in the United Kingdom”, and the creation of a Pastoral Latin American Centre where Latino Americans are supported, “both in the spiritual and human sphere.”
(Translated by David Coldwell: firstname.lastname@example.org)