What is the relationship of young Latinos to religion in Utah?

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The religion has been rooted in Latino culture for centuries.

Catholic homes, for example, often display altars with figures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and various saints. The sacraments mark important stages in the life of the faithful. In some Latin American countries, children ask for the blessing of their elders when they greet them.

But those dynamics are changing as more and more Hispanics, especially young people, across the United States are letting go of their religious ties. In 2007, 84% of Hispanic adults identified as Christian, according to Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Studies. By 2019, that number had fallen to 72%, and Catholic affiliation among Hispanics had fallen below half, from 58% to 47%.

At the same time, the number of Latinos who are not affiliated with a religion increased by 9 percentage points.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Despite this trend, religion remains a fundamental part of life for many of Utah’s nearly half a million Hispanics, who make up 15% of the state’s population.

And while the overall numbers are telling, each person’s individual journey into or away from a religious tradition is unique. Here, four Latinos from Utah share where they are on this journey:

A father’s faith

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Greg Sanchez at a Latter-day Saint Church in Rose Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

At 32 and with a 10-month-old son, Greg Sanchez is already thinking about the legacy he wants to bequeath to his child. He hopes he will include the values ​​and community he found in Utah’s preeminent faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sanchez grew up attending church in New Jersey. The cult was important to him back then and it remains so here and now – in the Hive State.

It was in Utah that he had one of his most profound religious experiences, naming and blessing his son, Milo. During this religious rite, he asked God to protect his boy, bless him and guide him throughout his life.

“Just saying that prayer really enlightened me because it put into perspective how I felt God felt about us. And he just wants us to be good people. He wants us to grow and become better,” Sanchez said “And it’s just that kind of relationship that I have with my son, or something that kind of reinforced my belief that there’s a God who cares about us.”

Being separated from his extended family, he found a community to rely on in a Spanish-speaking parish, or congregation, in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City to the west. There he also found common ground with Latinos from other countries.

“We don’t speak the same Spanish dialect. But we understand each other,” he said. “And we know the difficulty of being immigrants, or having children, or trying to find a job, etc.”

In Rose Park, and especially in Spanish-speaking groups, religion plays a huge role, Sanchez said. Many events and volunteer opportunities stem from his church membership.

“If you’re just stuck with your friends and don’t have that social aspect of a church, you might miss those great opportunities to serve,” he said. “And that’s probably one of the reasons, one of the main reasons, that I love going to church is because I love serving to help others.”

He once walked away from church, he said, because he didn’t feel the need to attend regularly. That started to change when he became an adult.

“I always need the help and support that comes from the spiritual side of the church,” Sanchez said. “Also the social aspect of going to church, which is within a congregation of like-minded people supporting each other when they struggle.”

A complicated relationship with the church

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Osmar Ramirez poses for a photo in Kearns, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. Ramirez believes in God but is not affiliated with any religion.

Religion has always been “tricky” for Kearns resident Osmar Ramirez.

“Science has its theories of evolution and so on. And that’s plausible,” he said. “But who’s to say there isn’t a higher power that put us all here for a reason?”

The 19-year-old was born into a Mexican Catholic family and for part of his life he participated in this tradition.

But he often found it “stressful” to follow religious expectations. He feared “going to hell”, making mistakes in life and facing disastrous consequences in the afterlife. There was also a pressure to behave and appear “a certain way”.

Ramirez was curious about catechism. He enjoyed learning his religion, but this interest did not extend to the usual Sunday service.

“Whether it was the Christian church, the LDS, or the Catholic church, I never really felt welcome,” he said. “I felt it was more for older people…. It wasn’t really engaging with me.

His mother and sister distanced themselves from Catholicism when he was around 10 years old. With this change, his interest in other religions, such as different forms of Christianity and Islam, increased.

“I don’t think I’m really learning to see anything specific,” Ramirez said. “I just want to know how other cultures see religion through their eyes and through their beliefs.”

As for him, he no longer affiliates with a church and does not plan to do so in the future. Rather, he sees himself continuing to learn on his own, not regularly attending any denomination.

That doesn’t change how he feels about God, though.

“I think I will always believe in a higher power, definitely. There are so many unknowns,” Ramirez said. “The idea of ​​having a higher power, I think, is quite comforting.”

A personal and engaging religion

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Worshipers attend mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.

It takes a few essentials for Stephanie Griswold to connect with a church: services in Spanish and feeling “something” when she worships.

“When I sit at Mass and hear the homily or the readings for the week, I want to feel moved. I want to feel connected,” she said. “And, unfortunately, the Catholic Mass can sometimes be a bit static.”

In Hildale — an isolated southern Utah community known for its polygamous ties — that’s hard to accomplish. She has to drive 30 minutes to reach the nearest Catholic Church. The 34-year-old is also a graduate student caring for her paralyzed husband, so day-to-day obligations hamper any meaningful connection to a parish.

Yet she identifies as Catholic, as do many of her Nicaraguan-Mexican family members. But she almost never attends services. In a way, she follows the practices of her family.

“[Religion] was so much a part of my family identity, even though we didn’t go to church regularly,” she said. “I can’t say, necessarily, that I’m certain there is a God, but I think it’s a comfort, and it’s also part of my upbringing. It is something that may be there.

She considers parts of her church to be “man-made” and emphasizes that “anyone’s relationship with God is private and personal.”

She finds commonalities with other Catholics when it comes to religious symbols. Her family has always had a Virgen de Guadalupe figure at home, which she says is a symbol of comfort and maternal support. Griswold had her First Communion, Confirmation, and wedding in church.

But she has given up traditions that don’t make her feel good.

“It’s okay to doubt and question and not be a blind follower of anything in particular,” Griswold said. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, I have to go to church every Sunday because I have to keep the Sabbath.’ Well, sometimes I kept the Sabbath by doing good things on Sunday like charity work, or watching something, or reading something that made me think about my relationship with religion.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

A nuanced view of religion

Joyce Schwenke grew up as a Latter-day Saint. She married and raised her children in the faith. She works with a youth group in her Vineyard neighborhood and every weekend that she doesn’t work, she goes to church. She has no intention of leaving the fold, but she sometimes struggles with what she hears there.

“Especially in how we treat the LGBTQ+ community. I feel like the norm is to exclude them, and I don’t really appreciate that. I have a cousin who is like a sister to me and she came out about 10 years ago,” Schwenke said. “I was really sad to hear that she expected me to reject her because I was active in my faith.”

That’s when she decided to become an LGBTQ ally, exploring ways to discuss sexual orientation and making sure everyone could feel loved and comfortable being them. themselves around her.

“That’s what Jesus would have wanted,” the 36-year-old said, lamenting that many other members don’t feel the same way. “Unfortunately, I’m kind of one of the outliers.”

Her parents are Mexican and have a “less rigid” culture, and now that she is a mom, Schwenke wants to pass that on to her children. She wants them to love others and accept them as they are.

Yet she believes in the church’s core values ​​- faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end. It simply adds to this formula a greater acceptance of those who may be perceived as different and of those who have left the church.

Some friends, Schwenke said, have noticed how she navigates her faith.

“It stems from several things with my cousin coming out. I also lost a brother who committed suicide,” she said. “And that took me on a different journey to find my own faith and really dig into what I believe.”

Schwenke said she was “lucky” to live in a diverse area.

“We have people from Nigeria, Guatemala, Paraguay, Mexico and all kinds of places. They also lived in different states. They’re not just Utah-raised Mormons,” she said. “So I really enjoyed meeting them and seeing what their experience was like outside of this region and the ways they can contribute to our community. It’s really awesome.

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America member of the corps and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.

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