Frequent reports show that religion in the United States is on the decline.
One report from the Pew Research Center shows that the number of people who pray daily, regularly attend religious services and believe in God, has been on the decline in the last four decades.
The decline isn’t catastrophic, according to the Pew Research Center, but it does show that the new generation of adults don’t feel the need to affiliate themselves with a religion.
Latinos in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
A small contradiction to this religious decline is the Latinos who have converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in the last century. Since Mormon missionaries arrived in Mexico in 1885, the participation of Latinos in the LDS church has been increasing.
According to the LDS church, 700,000 Mormons were in Latin America in 1980. Today that number has grown to 6.5 million members. Among the countries that have the most members are Mexico (1.43 million), Brazil (1.38 million) and Chile and Peru (590,000).
Members of the LDS church, say that part of the attraction for Latinos to the church is its focus on the family.
“More than anything it’s the connection to family values that attracts us,” said Samantha Quijada, 43, Aurora. “When the missionaries visited my family, I was 14 and I remember that my mom was most interested in the idea that families are eternal.”
Another attractive aspect for some is that being a member of the LDS church implies more than going to services every Sunday, it is a way of life.
“I think that it’s about the opportunities that being a member presents both inside and outside of church,” said Karen Palacios, 33, Aurora. “On the religious side they present these new ideas that are wonderful. Like an afterlife where you can reunite with your loved ones; living prophets; the learning inside the church is constant.”
Palacios added that another attractive aspect is the focus the church puts in education and humanitarian aid.
“Other things that attracts (Latinos) to the church is secondary education; the help the church provides in times of financial crisis or natural disasters; also, it presents a way to legally enter the United States. It could be that you served a mission, that you’re a student at BYU (Brigham Young University) o because you met someone in the mission. The truth is there are a lot of benefits,” she said.
For Quijada, seeing other Latinos that aren’t just members, but also leaders, is moving.
“I love watching General Conference every six months, because I know that at least one of our representatives will talk,” she said of the biannual conference that the church’s leadership carries out.
Currently in that leadership there are at least 12 Latinos born outside of the United States including Reyna Alberto from Nicaragua who is among the leadership of the female branch of the church known as the Relief Society.
“It’s not that I aspire to be part of that leadership,” Quijada said. “But I feel that when they speak, they are speaking to us and they know our situation a little better.”
Temples increase presence
Quijada added that the growth of Mormons in Latin America has to do with a more visible presence - part of that visibility can be found in Mormon temples.
“When I got baptized, the closest temple was in Mexico City,” said Quijada of the sacred buildings where Mormon carry out sacred ordinances including matrimony.
The first temple in Latin America was the São Paulo temple dedicated in 1975 followed by the Santiago, Chile and Mexico City temples dedicated in 1983. Since then, 12 more temples have been dedicated in Mexico and 23 more throughout Latin America.