The face of the Catholic Church in the United States is changing. A whopping one-third of those Americans raised Catholic have left the Church in the past few decades. Despite this exodus, the total number of American Catholics remains steady. “The only reason the Catholic Church in the US hasn’t hemorrhaged members,” explains Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, “is because of immigrants—primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Roughly half of these Catholic immigrants practice some form of charismatic worship, where the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role. “People receive gifts from the Holy Spirit,” Chesnut says, “so speaking in tongues and faith healing are huge. As you can imagine, these services are very animated. Especially in contrast to a typical Catholic mass!”
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal had its birth in the 1960s among students in Pittsburgh, but caught fire in places like Latin America and the Caribbean, parts of the world where spirit worship is deeply ingrained in the culture. By bringing this dynamic style of worship back to the U.S., immigrants from these countries are reinvigorating American parishes.
At Ss. Joachim and Anne, a primarily Haitian Church in Queens, the monthly, all-night charismatic prayer service is packed and rocking. “You feel a deep sense of peace afterward,” says Rev. Robert Robinson, pastor at Ss. Joachim and Anne. “Almost a spiritual intoxication. You leave feeling like you do after a rock concert!”
The good vibes are evident, but that isn’t the only reason why the service is well attended. Over the past two years, Haiti has suffered disasters of biblical proportion, first with the devastating earthquake of 2010 and then, ten months later, a deadly cholera outbreak. As the members of Ss. Joachim and Anne grieved for relatives and struggled to make sense of these calamities, charismatic prayer services provided particular solace.
“Definitely it eases suffering,” says Father Robinson. “Charismatic worship gives people a lifeline. People are reaching out to a God who does the impossible.” In turn, immigrants like the Haitians at Ss. Joachim at Anne “are a source of life to The Church.”