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What happened to alienate British people from their faith?

What we can learn from the Church in Mexico

By on Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mexicans crowd around a relic and wax effigy of Blessed John Paul II at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Catholicism flourishes in this country  CNS photo/Keith Dannemiller

Mexicans crowd around a relic and wax effigy of Blessed John Paul II at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Catholicism flourishes in this country CNS photo/Keith Dannemiller

As I prepare to leave Mexico, here are a few observations about the local church that I take with me.

The average Mexican parish has about twelve Masses per weekend, let us say three on a Saturday evening, and nine on a Sunday. These may be every hour on the hour until 1pm or even 2pm (Mexicans like a late lunch), followed by two or three evening Masses, some as late at 10pm. Many priests are saying five Masses on a Sunday.

The congregations at these Masses are a cross section of society, old and young, rich and poor. There are no groups that seem over-represented, and no “missing generations”.

Daily Masses attract large congregations.

Whenever you see a priest hearing confessions, there is a queue of people waiting, a very long queue, again of people of all ages. And whenever Mass is being said, another priest is hearing confessions.

At the end of Mass there is usually a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Whenever you go into a Church, you will see someone praying.

The liturgy is rather basic, and reminds me of Italy. The Masses are all low, in every sense – no incense, no nice vestments (the Reds burned them all, I suppose) – and the sort of hymns that people sing without books. The Allleluia I have heard is sung to the tune of Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, which is a melody that no one under the age of forty in the UK will know. Incidentally, as in certain other countries, a lot of the congragation leave as the closing hymn begins.

The clergy do not wear clerical dress, which was banned by the country’s anti-clerical governments of the past.

So what is the secret of the success of the Mexican Church? For if you take the measure of people in the pew, it is a huge success… This must have its roots in history: this is a church of martyrs, but there again, so is the church in the British Isles. True, our martyrs date back a few hundred years, but they are not forgotten, nor should the anti-Catholicism of our own governments be forgotten either, which is still not entriely eradicated.

My answer to this question – why Catholicism flourishes in Mexico in a way it does not in England – is that the answer is partly religious, and partly cultural and sociological. English people are not interested, by and large, in religion, because they are not interested, by and large, in any social activity, and religion is a social activity. In the UK in general, membership of every sort of grouping, from poliical parties to youth groups, seems to be on the wane. Moreover, religion per se now seems alien to the British psyche, whereas in a country like Mexico (or Italy or Poland for that matter) religion seems a natural activity. Why is that? What happened to alienate British people from their faith?

Another question that arises is the old question of “broken Britain” – how can you communicate the faith to people when the channels of communication themselves are broken? And here is a funny thing: Britain is a highly organised and successful country in many ways, whereas Mexico is not. Mexico has had many woes, and continues to experience these woes. Yet something in Mexico works in a way that it does not in England. Of course I am not a sociologist, though I am interested in cultural questions: but what I would like to know is this – is there any way back for us in England to a more integrated, happier society, one in which religion would not be marginalised but would once more become mainstream?

  • Obsydian

    those who stand for nothing, fall for everything !

  • Obsydian

    then please “entertain” us with your awesome “intellect” & “wisdom”

  • Obsydian

    As I suspected from a self proclaimed “securalist homo-sexual” !  -  silence – for no real argument !

    try these arguments out for size:

    - Have Fun mr. sadjuglies ! :-)

  • Carlos

    No, im not. What have I said to give you that impression? Your comment sounds racist because you said that Mexicans “take the Lord’s name in vain”, 
     “use and distribute illegal drugs, drive drunk, fight, murder, and steal.” Some Mexicans might do these things but, so do some people of every race. You seem to imply its a particular problem amongst Mexicans. To characterise a whole ethnic group as a bunch of drug-taking murderous thieves is racist. Have a think about that.

  • Henia Whiteman

    Adrian Johnson you have spoken through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a church we are too quick to criticise the clergy. We must pray for our shepherds. I will join you in the 54 day rosary novena for the church in England. May God bless us in our endeavours and hear our prayers.

  • eljay

    Perhaps you should check out Aquinas’s views on private property.
    He pointed out that the right of private property was only a good when it served the common good, and that where some people were in need while others in superabundance it was not theft to take from the abundant. And public authorities could appropriate whatever was necessary for the good of society.
    “Charity” may reside in the individual, but it also resides in the institutions and societies made up of those individuals.
    We are a “people of God” A “Faith Community”. So the Church has faith and charity, not just individuals.

    Wherever loving good is done, God’s work is done and Charity is there.

     Our nation’s values & actions will express our own. It seems most odd that Charity, at the grand scale, is set up as an opposing force to Christianity in the minds of some???
    It is almost as if they would hate to see all the people of the earth have equal access to the fruits of the earth, fulfilling the prophets’ cries for social justice.
    “Individual” charity will never effect such great transformations. Do we want to keep our comfortable world of token efforts perhaps?
    Should we rather not be ashamed that Socialists (with a Christian Heritage, but often disowned by Christians) have worked harder to acheive the fruits of charity in Social Justice than we have done?

  • Anonymous

     Your figures are probably  near enough correct. Wikipedia says that around 43% of Mexicans go to Mass every Sunday compared to 70% in the sixties. There may well be pockets of greater and lesser attendance, nevertheless it is nearly a 30% reduction and probably on-going yet considerably better than in the UK. Let us remember that the Church in Mexico has been viciously persecuted for over a century by secularists and the Church usually flourishes when under attack, e.g. in Poland under Communism, Church attendance was around 60%. In 2004 it had declined to 43% and that was 8 years ago if the decline is progressive then that figure will be around 30%.
    In the UK there has been no persecution yet since 1966 when the number of Mass-goers was around 2 million, by 2011 it was down to under 900,00. This works out to be a reduction of weekly Mass goers from 53% in 1966 to 22% in 2011 despite the massive influx of Eastern European Catholics in recent years.

  • Anonymous

     Well said, EmmaGabrielle.

  • Anonymous

     Of course the Protestant Reformation is responsible for the current situation in the world. Christendom under the jurisdiction of the Pope had had its problems for centuries but never had the Papacy’s spiritual hegemony ever been so directly challenged since the Great Schism. The success of the Reformation did not depend upon Luther, Calvin or Zwingli but upon those who protected them from the Holy Roman Emperor. The Reformation could never have succeded without the connivance of the local civil power, the Elector of Saxony to be precise who became a Protestant and shielded Luther from the Emperor, Charles V.
    Now to say Christendom was perfect before the Reformation would be a total misnomer. The Pope’s temporal claims placed him in the same boat as the Emperor, the Kings of France, Spain, England and a host of European royalty so much so that he had to align himself with one ruling family or another. The temptation to trump this temporal equality with the spiritual supremacy was the undoing of the once united Church.
    Had the Pope not been in hock to Charles V whose aunt was Catherine of Aragon then Henry VIII would have most likely got his ‘anullment’. He was entitled to expect this as Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Louis VIII of France was annulled at her request on the gounds of consanguinity in the 4th degree although a previous application for anullment had been rejected by Pope Eugene II. After the birth of their daughter Louis gave in and accepted an anullment which the same Pope granted. Eight weeks later Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet her cousin within the 3rd degree who became Henry II of England.
    This illustrates how much the Papacy was in thrall to the politics of the time and there is no reason to suppose that things had changed as far as annulling (royal) marriages was concerned in the 14th century.
    Henry VIII was in belief, surprisingly a Catholic through and through. His culpability is that he never reconciled himself to the Catholic Church before his death, and allowed his son Edward VI to be brought up as a thorough-going Protestant. He, Edward VI rather than his father was responsible for the subsequent Anglican church which emerged under Queen Elizabeth I.
    Protestantism resulted first and foremost in the disruption of Christendom. I don’t believe anyone at the time had any idea of the repercussions for subsequent generations. If your Church suddenly became Protestant, would most people have known or understood? How many of us questioned the introduction of the Novus Ordo? Then if it had reverted to Catholicism would the average man have really been aware of what was going on? I imagine that as far as the Reformers were concerned it was a power struggle and they lost but not without taking half of Christendom with them.
    The legacy is that Protestantism being heretical has accomodated itself to the world. It has protested against a world order but has never been able suggest or recommend a replacement. Most Protestant Churches these days are comfortable with abortion, adultery, fornication, divorce and homosexual activity. It wasn’t always so but over the years the pressure of secularism has worn them down.
    Catholics, alas, are becoming much the same in their beliefs.

  • eljay

    The kindness that we British exhibit to the poor and the
    sick (as a society) has nothing to do with the loss of faith.
    The two main factors are…
    (1)The loss of an interior life. This is due to constant distraction of media.
    There is no solitude any more, especially in crowded England.

    Young people constantly have a screen in front of them, or
    and earphone in theirs ear.
    Yet everyone says they “are spiritual, but not religious”
    The treasures of Catholic mysticism have been ignored whilst Catholics have let
    themselves become understood as primarily about antiquated positions on
    social/sexual issues.
    (Visit James Finley at
    When we restore our interior contemplative lives we will fill our deep hunger,
    but we will also be transformed and a community of contemplatives is always a
    magnet. There is no shortcut, it is a miraculous process, and clobbering people
    with our God-facts (like fundamentalists do) does not cut it.

    (2) Richard Dawkins is English, so is Stephen Hawkin. They express a cosmological
    view which is cool, commonsensical, popular and full of holes. But
    intellectually opening up these holes is not enough, only direct experience of
    the divine can produce transform us in faith….see (1)


    There are some here who seem to believe that only crushing
    impoverishment will turn people to God!
    Equally they seem to believe in unlimited acquisition of wealth as underwritten
    by Catholicism…it isn’t.

    Please remember; Capitalism is a product of the Protestant
    Reformation. The Catholic Church forbad usury, but capitalism required it so
    the Protestants allowed it!

    The Protestants also looked back to the Old Testament where
    pre-Christian understandings saw increased personal wealth as an endorsement,
    blessing and favour from God. This is anti-Christian and anti-Catholic.

    But this does show how some Catholics can fret about
    liberalism on sexual matters whilst accepting the liberalisation of usury that
    allowed capitalism!

    US culture is capitalistic, privatised and
    wealth-worshipping because it is a Protestant culture. European (ie Catholic)
    culture always had grand means to care for the poor/sick as befitted the age.
    Monasteries Hospitals, Almshouses