If you check out Operation World’s facts and statistics regarding Mexico, you’ll find that Mexico is 95% “Christian.” 8.3% of the population is classified as “evangelical.” Operation World goes on to describe Mexico’s unique strain of Roman Catholicism this way:
Most Mexicans are culturally Catholic but not practicing; only 10% are regular churchgoers. Many others blend elements of Amerindian spiritism, including gods and goddesses, into folk Catholicism.
If you have traveled around the (RC) world, you quickly realize that Roman Catholicism very much adapts itself to cultural and religious traditions. In the U.S., Catholicism almost looks like evangelical Protestantism. Gone are the bleeding images of the Sacred Heart, or the fawning statues of the Virgin. There are no images in the high places of mountains, nor pilgrimages to sacred places. The religious manifestations of Catholicism are sanitized, and churches strictly follow Vatican 2 guidelines of no images in the church, with the possible exception of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Generally speaking, Jesus is featured more prominently in U.S. Catholic churches, albeit generally still nailed to the cross. Roman Catholics are allies in important social struggles. Influential Christian leaders in the past have promoted an even closer relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics, including the late Charles Colson and J.I. Packer.
If you travel to Guatemala, to the city of masks, Chichicastenango, you can enter into a Catholic church and see fruits and vegetables lain out on the floor of the church, complete with strong smelling incense, as prayers mix with spells, the church floor an ample altar for all manner of witchcraft. I have personally taken pictures of this place, in the days before digital cameras. Although technology has transformed images, it has not changed the ancient, ingrained religious traditions of pre-Hispanic polytheistic practices. Five hundred years of European-based, super-imposed Catholicism apparently has not changed it either.
So what about Mexico? Certainly a country sandwiched in between Guatemala, a country that is, according to Operation World, 24% evangelical, and the U.S., which is 28% evangelical? Surely Mexico, the U.S.’s next door neighbor, a country considered 95% Christian, really doesn’t need our missionary attention. Certainly Mexico can be ignored, overlooked. Let’s focus on the 10/40 window.
I’m going to do the best that I can to convince you that Mexico still desperately needs the church’s attention, that Mexican Roman Catholicism is radically different that the Catholicism you think you may know. That Jesus takes a back seat to Guadalupe here, and that Mexico suffers under a form of religiosity that denies the power of God. Ready or not…here we go!