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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?

  • Scyptical Chymist

     Oh please. Certainly, superficially,you could interpret it this way, but I think a serious point is being made here about the impact of  “western” culture on people from a culture where religious bellef and practice is integral to their lives. For instance were those who indulge in the activities described really good Catholics in Mexico? If so why do they change in the US? Do all immigrants from Mexico stop practising their faith (surely not)?  The knee jerk “racist” response so common these days does not help one try to understand these important issues concerning the interaction of the Church and our western mores on the life of the indigenous and immigrant Mexicans.

    A further observation: Many years ago visiting both Yucatan and  Oaxaca, my wife and I were very impressed by the devotion of the people, mainly poor but many from the growing middle class. We were also impressed by their friendliness and hard work. The young in particular seemed keen on learning, especially IT skills at oneof the numerous training establishments which scattered the main cities. Nor was their any bad behaviour or drunkenness (maybe this has changed, but I hope not). Any success which accrues to them they thoroughly deserve. Would that many of our youth showed the same drive.

  • Jpepe

    Good point though I suspect the explanation is more complex. But my point is, do not blame the government health care or the help to the poor which are part of the social teachings of the Church. Of course, as long they are in line with the principles of the Church.

  • Jpepe

    This is not true, please references.

  • Jpepe

    Legally yes, but I would be more careful about “honestly”

  • Jpepe

    References please.

  • CommonSense

     Socialism is not charity. Charity comes from freely giving. Socialism takes things from people with a gun to their head and redistributes it to those whom the ruling party chooses. It is a form of theft and stretches the working classes thin so they have little resources to actively participate in personal charity in their own neighborhood. Socialism is a dirty word and it kill the principle of subsidiarity.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     Yes, Walsingham is the main devotional centre honouring Our Lady in England. She is venerated by both Anglicans and Catholics. However she NEVER appeared there. The shrine dates from the mediaeval period stemming from the devotion of a certain noble lady whose name I would have to look up.

  • CommonSense

     Ahh, but the Mexican government is riddled with corruption… So does the ‘public health care’ actually really work for the average citizen – or does the average citizen in Mexico have to rely on his/her neighbor to help out in time of need? In the UK – a different sort of corruption takes place. The handouts do come as stated and build a dependency upon government.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     See my post in response to Magdalene. There is no record of any appearance of Our Lady at Walsingham. This does not stop it being the major centre of devotion to the Blessed Virgin in England venerated by both Catholics and Anglicans.

  • CommonSense

    Bear in mind that some part of the problems within the Church may come from outside influences. Our Lady of Fatima warned of errors spread from Russia (communism). Which was of more strategic importance then for the spread of communism – specifically linked to Russia – to infiltrate and corrupt the Faith of England or of Mexico?

    Then there is the problem where the more intellectually educated are sometimes more prone to pride and cast off ‘superstitions’. This is true for not only England, but any developed country. The poor understand their existence hangs on a thread. The wealthy sometimes forget that death may come the next day.

    England specifically has a nationality within its realm who are considered ‘outsiders’ – the Irish. This national division has also been used to foster dislike for Catholicism in English society which exists to this day. Mexico does not have this type of political division. True, Mexico has some indigenous Indian tribes that have sought independence, but the dividing lines did not include religion.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     Very well put. I think similar thoughts and experiences will have occurred to many ot the post 70 generation of Catholics in this country and perhaps Western Europe. I did a double take on your reference to Pope Benedict though. I then realised you meant the liberal hierarchy here don’t like him, but it could have been interpreted as the Pope not liking the Ordinariate which was his brain-child!

    What can be done to prod these bishops  into actionand become unpopular with their friends in the liberal elite?

  • Jpepe

    Yes, he really sounds racist and ignorant.

  • Anonymous

    If there is an analogy to be made, I think it is that atheism is the evidence-based (i.e. mainstream) medicine, but theism is the unproven and quack medicine.

    A non-belief in deities does not imply a lack of morals. A blind acceptance of what a holy book says can lead to immorality. This is easily observed as a result of modern newscasting technology (if one is not too blinkered and the newscasters are not too biased), and could contribute to loss of religious faith.

  • Adrian Johnson

    Prayer.  Nothing but prayer. It’s the only weapon we have, but the only one we need.  We need a miracle, but if we pray the rosary every day towards giving us holy, saintly, courageous bishops, we will get them whether they are new ones, or the current ones have a conversion experience and suddenly “Get religion” .  

    I recommend the “54-day rosary novena” for this single intention of re-converting England to the Faith.  It is a long and difficult prayer campaign, (the devil will tempt you to forget or abandon it)  but every time I have finished the 54 days, I have gotten the miracle I have prayed for. England WILL be converted –let’s make it sooner, rather than later.    Remember that when Hitler took over Austria, devout Catholics there began a Rosary campaign to free them from the Nazi yoke. When one tenth (a “tithe”) of the populace were steadily saying the rosary, –Hitler withdrew his troops from Austria, peacefully.   This happened nowhere else in WWII.  Think about it:  We could pray our way out of this mess. We have the means.  Just use it. What if everyone reading this undertook the 54-day rosary novena?  Google the term to learn about it. Three novenas (3×9 =27 days) of petition to Our Lady of the Rosary, followed immediately by three novenas of Thanksgiving to her. (2 x 27= 54 days)  Talk about it to your friends ( and if you can’t discuss serious prayer with your friends, you need a better set of friends).   What if we began it on March 1, St David’s day?  It would end on St George’s Day, 23 April, the feast day of the patron Saint of England.  IF anybody reading this thinks this is a good idea, If you are fed up with the culture of death and moral squalor around you, –spread the word to undertake the 54-day novena in your parish, and by e-mail.  And do it yourself, even if nobody else listens.  I am. (“Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.”)  

  • Adrian Johnson

    Our Lady did not appear to a large group of people–only to a wealthy widow, Richeldis (Richold) de Faverches.  Our Lady revealed the dimensions of the Holy House of Nazareth for R. to replicate as a place of pilgrimage on her Norfolk estate “to share in her joy of the Incarnation” . That far back of course, it is folk legend; but it is outlined in the so-called  “Pynson ballad” which is very old.  

    It is significant the Richeldis’ son Geoffrey was convinced of the veracity of  his mother’s message / apparition of Our Lady, –for he eventually gave  the land (his inheritance, mind you) to the Augustinan Friars.   

  • Adrian Johnson

    I stand corrected ! :-) 

  • Honeybadger

    As long as we don’t forget Mary!

  • theroadmaster

    Catholicism in Mexico is a religion of the heart and is a religion of all the senses in terms of celebrating the presence of God in our midst. From the time of the appearance of the Our Blessed Lady to Blessed Juan Diego in the 16th Century, the Faith has taken firm root in Central and Southern America.  The marian aspect is specially strong in Mexico and unites Mexicans of all classes and ethnic origins as evidenced by the millions of pilgrims who make their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe annually.  Thus Catholicism is primarily a grassroots religion in that country and has gone through many trials, as in the vicious persecutions visited on the Faithful by the militant socialist governments of the early part of the 20th Century.  This has done much to ground religious belief and bolster it’s appeal  to the majority of the citizenry.  Also the great social inequalities which have marked Mexican society for many decades has contributed to the Church being widely recognized as a passionate advocate for the poor, dispossessed and disenfranchised.  
    In contrast Britain has remained relatively free from violent social and religious upheavals for hundreds of years, due to a more equitable distribution of voting rights, property and income over that time-frame.  But this hides a gaping hole in terms of the disintegration of the religious bonds which once tied communities together and a vapid multi-culturalism and subjective liberalism has sought to fill this void.  The riots which scarred major British cities last year, were timely reminders of the breakdown of an ethical consensus in the face of an empty materialism, which has widened the socio-economic gulf between rich and poor. The break with Rome in the 16th C instigated by Henry V11 and the formation of a ‘national’ church which was imposed rather than introduced in a piecemeal manner at the grassroots, in a sense diverted Britain from the main source of it’s religious nourishment as a damn divides a tributary from a river.  Anglicanism became class-based and was always susceptible to the skeptical currents of wider society, as seen in the issues which continue to break up the communion in it’s wider global setting.

  • Anonymous

     “A non-belief in deities does not imply a lack of morals.”

    But it is disconcerting to atheists how often that it does lead to a lack of morals.  Bradlaugh, Russell, Hitchens, Dawkins….

  • Clare D

    Im not a citizen of mexico so I don’t know, do you?

  • Clare D

    We voted for things like the NHS and the majority of us like it. Its not taking from people with a gun to their head.

  • theroadmaster

    In fact, it is the  recently founded traditional orders in the US and Europe which are attracting considerable candidates because of their insistence on promoting adherence to the traditional doctrinal and moral positions and liturgical rubrics  of the Church.  The old orders which succumbed to secularizing trends after Vatican 11 are in steep decline in terms of influence and new postulants. Fr or sister trendy do not seem pulling in the numbers. Who’da thunkit

  • Parasum

    “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?”

    ## Listen to Pat Condell on Youtube – his videos are very savage, but they answer the question. He is a Catholic turned atheist, & is British; so is well-equipped to make clear why Christianity in the UK is not exactly convincing.

    Why is it that so many anti-Christian atheists have haad so many years of Catholic education ? It seems that the only way for a Catholic to avoid becoming an atheist is to be a convert to Catholicism. To have a Catholic education seems to be the best possible means of getting people to flood out of the Church.  

  • Anonymous

    Call me what you will Carlos.  I just tell it how I see it.  And it looks like you are being judgmental.  Maybe racist yourself.  Are you racist Carlos?  How do you know what racism is?  Is it because you live it, Carlos? 

  • Anonymous

     I don’t disagree with you E.T., and I appreciate your reply.  But I would not go so far as making Mexicans the model for devout Catholicism.  Yes, some may be, but 90% are not.  Just as 98% of “Catholics” in the US are “Catholic”, while the other 2% are Catholic.  Off the subject, any idea where the fines to this health care fiasco will go if one does not comply?  Do they go into the health care system, or elsewhere?  And do you know if the fines will be greater than the cost of insurance?    

  • Redmonds33064

    The first loss was when Britain went Protestant with Henry VIII.  He wanted a divorce, couldn’t get one and decided to “found” his own church.  From that moment on, you had socialized religion.  Religion administered by the State.  It was reduced to the same level as getting a library card.

    Unfortunately, the anti-Catholicism that exists in England, as well as the watering down of Protestantism through the years has ended in total skepticism and chaos.  

    England first needs to learn what really happened to its faith starting with Henry VIII and how Christianity got a divorce from history at that time.  

    It’s getting bad for Catholics in the USA too.  I’m learning Spanish.  Maybe I’ll move to Mexico.

  • Anonymous

    What those Mexicans bring to America is what they have within them.  And lets not forget to mention the terrible drug problem (i.e., war) they have at home.  It is not fiction nor superficial to note that a number of vehicles at Sunday Mass have pornographic decals on them.  Decals of female devils squatting while holding a ?spear?  Nor is it a problem of my interpretation that they do not pray the rosary even though they wear them around their necks.  Ask any Mexican with a rosary hanging from their rear-view mirror, on any given day, what Mysteries should be prayed for that day.  I have, and not one has given me the correct answer. 

    You can sugar coat the information all you would like, but their is a serious problem with honest devotion in the Catholic Church.  If I was in the presence of a Pope JP II relic, I would not be snapping pictures with my phone or camera.  I would be praying.  Amen   

  • Anonymous

     There, not “their”

  • Anonymous

    To take a picture of something Holy is to put a camera between yourself and God.  

  • EmmaGabrielle

     The majority of your comment is very well put. However, I would like to point out, as a Catholic and a scholar and a Socialist, that the Catholics in the SSPX are not ”false Catholics.” Perhaps you should read Pope Benedict’s illuminating writings on his views of the faithful who attend Mass in those parishes and send their children to SSPX schools. SSPX Catholics are just as Catholic as you are, are just as faithful and valid and likely to take a lively interest in this topic

  • EmmaGabrielle

    Why would the youth, and even the older generations for that matter, of England be actively interested in large numbers in living their faith daily? Some Masses I have attended in England  seem closer to an Anglican service, with a little bit of wishy washy hippy thrown in for good measure. The only Masses I ever see bursting at the seams with faithful waiting for confessions to be heard is in Oxford, and only then at the Solemn and Latin masses. People today are practically drowning in materialism, secularism, and distractions of every nature. Make Mass just another social event and you will lose the faithful. Once I took my British fiance to a Latin mass here he said it was like stepping back in time and the entire focus was readjusted. This is in NO WAY asserting that Masses in English are less holy or sacramental. But Masses that are more solemn are bound to draw more people.I am just calling it like I see it.

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    England is doomed.  Anglicanism is a ridiculous State Religion.  Who in his right mind could possibly bow down to an ignorant old lady calling herself the Head of the Church?  This is why today there is a craze going on in England whereby idiotic women are being ordained priestesses and bishopess.  This is sheer insanity if not a ludicrous circus for demented and fawning ignoramuses.

  • Anonymous

    You find it “a funny thing” that “Britain is a highly organised and successful country in many ways” but is largely apathetic about religion, whereas Mexico is not highly organised and successful (according to you) but embraces religion enthusiastically. Could it be that the Mexicans are too busy praying and attending all those masses to afford the same amount of time and attention that the British devote to more worldly matters, such as industry, social services, and the physical infrastructure of society?

    I see no evidence that channels of communication are broken in Britain. I’m using one right now as I type this, and it seems to be working efficiently. I see no evidence that English, or British, people are uninterested in social activity, and if that’s your impression, it could be just that you’re not getting many party invitations these days, and are not interested in football.

    You cannot return to the “more integrated, happier” England of your dreams, because it never existed.  Religion has never done much for social integration in Britain, and if people look happy in old photos, it’s because they were smiling for the camera. The myth that Britain is getting worse needs to be created by religious conservatives to complement the decline of religion.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Mexican history has been dominated by figures like Benito Juarez, so it is hardly a good advert for secularism.

    Perhaps I take a longer view than some. Was England a happier place before the Reformation? Before the Industrial revolution?

  • Anonymous

     “To have a Catholic education seems to be the best possible means of getting people to flood out of the Church.”

    Nonsense.  I had a Catholic education, both primary school and Jesuit college.  It depends on how well the Catholic children are educated in the faith, and some schools are better at doing that than others.  Additionally, we are warned from an early age not to befriend those who are likely to try and seduce us to abandon the Church, and for that reason I have never sought the friendship of known atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc.
    Even in later life, we should keep such people firmly at arm’s length, and never allow ourselves to keep company with those who regard us as being of inferior intellect.

  • Anonymous

     “I just tell it how I see it.”

    You need to get out more, Danielck.

  • Anonymous

    “If I was in the presence of a Pope JP II relic, I would not be snapping
    pictures with my phone or camera.  I would be praying.”

    Maybe they were doing both?

  • Anonymous

    I can’t debate Mexican history with you, since I know so little about it, though I think I read somewhere that Juarez’s birthday is still celebrated with a national holiday.

    Your question of whether English people were happier before the Reformation than they are today is probably impossible to answer, since it’s difficult to quantify even present happiness, let alone that of previous centuries. Individual happiness is, in the end, largely based on how comfortable a person feels in his or her social environment. Secular Britain in the 21st century works for me, whereas you might feel more at home in Catholic Mexico.  

  • Obsydian

    Re: England Better 600 yrs ago !   -  Yes It was !  
    -  Historical facts are there for all to see !
    But this “problem” is far bigger than most – if not ALL OF YOU realise, – or have forgotten !   Many of you forget the infiltration of satanic freemasonry – esp eclesiastical freemasonry, of which Pope Leo XIII & Our Lady has warned us about !  -  & is still warning US about !
    All of you goto: 
    - & yes you can scream unapproved at me all you like – but like Garabandal & Medjugorje, by the time Church hierarchy gets around to “approval” the show will all be over bar the shouting !
    READ, PRAY & DISCERN !   -   I have, & believe it to be TRUE !
    Ignore it, Laugh or show contempt & rage & fury !   -  Then you’ll reap the Whirlwind that is about to be unleashed upon the world !!  -  & you’ll be TRULY sorry ! 

  • Anonymous

    Do you do children’s parties?

  • Obsydian

    clowns like you willl always scoff !
    but based on ur comments ur not even Christian !
    so why do U bother ???!!!!!

    but I’ll bite, smart-arse:  try: www.

    &  goto:

    & if U wish to debate us:  goto:

    bring it on sunshine !

    or should that be moonbat ! 

  • Anonymous

    Enough. The majesty of your argument has convinced me that you speak truth.

  • Obsydian

    ” do I do children’s parties ? ”

    - Not if smug & arrogant clowns like U attend !!  :-)


  • Obsydian

    too scared to go to the links aren’t U !


  • Obsydian

    I don’t see any arguement from U – let alone “majesty”

    More like Court Jester – I believe is more apt for U !!  :-)

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I’m terrified of being bored to death.

  • Obsydian

    Brilliant “arguement”  – & very “intelligent” come-back !
    ur “wit” is just bowling me over !  lol  !  :-)

  • Anonymous

    I have not presented you with any arguments because I am not trying to convince you of anything.

  • Obsydian

    ur “bored” 

    - well I’m the Chairman of the bored !

    & well & truly over little punk dirt boards like U !

  • Anonymous

    Then we are both entertained.