Catholics in Argentina

I’m teaching an English class to a group of software programmers here in Mendoza, Argentina.  Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, we chit and chat about their lives—in English.  This Tuesday, one young man told the class that he spent Sunday celebrating the 60th jubilee of his parish priest’s priesthood. And another young woman about my age chimed in that she’d been there, too, and it had been a beautiful celebration (complete with a famous Argentine barbecue—asado!).   All around the room, nods of appreciation for this man’s commitment to the collar.


I don’t get the impression that this is a particularly religious group.  These two students are the only ones that mention Mass as a part of their weekend happenings.  But, clearly, the idea that a man has been a priest since 1948 induced a sort of awe over the length of his priesthood.


And I felt the same way.


Here’s the thing.  In the few conversations about religion that I’ve cobbled together with my slowly growing Spanish, the general consensus is that fewer and fewer young people in Argentina are committed to Catholicism—yes, rituals are important: babies are baptized, kids receive 1st Communion and young couples have a Catholic Mass Wedding. But attendance is next-to-nothing and being Catholic doesn’t seem to have much to do with going to Mass each Sunday. 


And yet.  There is this deep understanding of how amazing it is that a man could be a priest, daily committed to the needs of a parish, for 60 years.  In some ways, it feels like a disconnect—why be amazed by an institution you don’t care to participate in?  But, more, I think, it must paint a complicated picture of Catholicism. At the very least, despite the lack of formal practice, Catholicism retains its powerful pull on people’s imaginations. 


1 thought on “Catholics in Argentina

  1. I think you have described a much more universal trend than many would care to imagine. Many young adult Catholics in the U.S. attend Mass sporadically, if ever, and yet they still consider themselves Catholic. Some theologians have begun to borrow a term first used for Reconstructionist Judaism (those who value their Jewish culture but no longer adhere to many of Judaism’s traditional theological claims), which is known as Cultural Judaism. Others like me have argued that we are seeing a huge growth in Cultural Catholicism where people hold tight to the rituals of Catholicism but not necessarily to Church teaching or even theology. All one needs to do to confirm that is look at the Pew Forum’s recent study: to confirm that.

    Even among Catholics who differ greatly with the church on ordination, for example, still retain an awe for priests and nuns–like you described. The “Father Knows Best” syndrome certainly dissipated with the sexual abuse scandal, but it is still very prevalent among Cultural Catholics.

    Sometimes it definitely takes stepping outside of our accustomed cultural society (like you are doing in Argentina) to recognize what is also happening inside of it.

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