Catholic exodus The Roman Catholic Church, the religious home of most Hispanics, is experiencing the greatest exodus. While many former Catholics join evangelical or Pentecostal churches, the recent research shows that many of them stop attending church altogether. “Migrating to the U.S. means you have the freedom to create your own identity,” said Keo Cavalcanti, a sociologist at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and a co-author of a recent study that found a trend toward secularization among Hispanics in Richmond. “When people get here, they realize that maintaining that pro forma display of religiosity is not essential to doing well.” A separate study of 4,000 Hispanics to be released this month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center found that 8 percent of them said they had “no religion” – similar to the 11 percent in the general public. Of the Hispanics who claimed no religion, two-thirds said they had once been religious. Thirty-nine percent of the Hispanics who said they had no religion were former Catholics. RICHMOND, Va. – On Sunday afternoons, when the local Roman Catholic church holds Mass for Spanish-speaking Catholics, Edgar Chilin is playing soccer in a league with hundreds of Hispanic players. As a child in Guatemala, Chilin attended Mass every Sunday. But after immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, he and his family lost the churchgoing habit. “We pray to God when we feel the need to,” he said, “but when we come here to America we don’t feel the need.” A wave of research shows that increasing percentages of Hispanics are abandoning church, suggesting to researchers that along with assimilation comes a measure of secularization. Several studies show that Hispanics are just as likely as other Americans to identify themselves as having “no religion,” and to not affiliate with a church. Those who describe themselves as secular are, without question, a small minority among Hispanics – as they are among Americans at large. But, in contrast to many of the non-Hispanic Americans who identify themselves as secular, most of the Hispanics say they were once religious. Hispanics from Cuba were the most secular national group, at 14 percent, followed by Central Americans at 12 percent, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans at 9 percent, and South Americans at 8 percent, the Pew poll found. Mexicans in this country were the least likely to say they had no religion, at 7 percent. A larger survey, called the American Religious Identification Survey, a study of 50,000 adults, including 3,000 Hispanics, found that the percentage of Hispanics who identified themselves as having no religion more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, from 6 percent to 13 percent. Resolution not kept This change is happening even though many Hispanics emigrated from countries steeped in religion, where saints’ days and festivals mark the passage of time, and grandmothers round up their progeny each Sunday to go to Mass. “They come, they adopt the American way, and part of the American way is moving towards no religion,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Each year, Diana Lemus – a real estate agent and owner of Happy Mart, a busy Latino market in Richmond – makes New Year’s resolutions that include working out more, getting out of debt, being a better mother and attending church once a week. Lemus, a first-generation immigrant, said that this year she had kept all of them, except going to church. In fact, she spends Sunday mornings at the gym. She thinks her faith is important, but said that perhaps she has grown “too materialistic.” “I need God in my life, but I told the pastor, I get sleepy,” she said. “You have to stay in church from 1:30 to 5. I think if services were shorter, more entertaining.” Like Lemus, many Hispanics in Richmond said that even though they no longer attended church, their religion remained important to them. This confirms research findings that Hispanics who said they had no religion represent a small subset; many more Hispanics are living rather secular lives but still identify themselves as Catholics or Christians.