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  • Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church by Timothy Matovina
  • Roberto S. Goizueta
Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church. By Timothy Matovina. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012. vii + 312 pages. $29.95

The face of American Catholicism is changing rapidly and dramatically. A wealth of data supports this demographic fact—now so incontrovertible and widely-acknowledged as to have become commonplace. Indeed, as Timothy Matovina notes, Pope John Paul II acknowledged this reality in his 1999 Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, in which he referred to the American continents as simply “America,” arguing that the term’s appropriateness descriptively and prescriptively reflects the Church’s mission to strengthen bonds between the rich North and the poorer South.

The truly “American” (in John Paul II’s broader sense of the term) character of the U.S. Catholic Church, however, remains inadequately reflected in scholarly literature on U.S. Catholicism, too often still perceived as a fundamentally Euro-American phenomenon only recently acknowledging the Hispanic impact. By challenging that assumption and providing an alternative reading of U.S. Catholicism, he convincingly explains the history and contemporary context of the U.S. Church as, indeed, an American Church. His scholarship should redirect Catholic Studies in the United States.

Appropriately titled “Remapping American Catholicism,” the book’s first chapter lays the groundwork for Matovina’s re-reading of American Catholic history by [End Page 106] asking us to re-examine geographical assumptions. Building on the insights of historians like Jay Dolan and Alan Taylor, he questions the assumption that U.S. history begins only when the United States became a nation, instead of Europeans’ first encounters with natives in areas that today constitute the United States. If the latter is true, then U.S. Catholic history does not begin in the English colonies but begins in 1565 when Spanish-speaking Catholics settled in St. Augustine, Florida. Such a “remapping” has broad ramifications for our understanding of U.S. Catholicism’s character, and, especially, the place and role of Spanish-speaking Catholics. These can no longer be seen as latecomers to a Church founded by English-speaking Catholics but must now be recognized as foundational to the emergence and development of U.S. Catholicism. As a corollary, the border between an English-speaking North and a Spanish-speaking South is now seen as much more porous and fluid— not only in recent years but from the very origins of the U.S. Catholic Church.

In subsequent chapters, Matovina meticulously traces Latino Catholicism’s developing presence and how it poses a pastoral challenge for the U.S. Catholic Church. With impressive insight into its daunting complexity, he explores the Hispanic community’s diversity and the ambivalence, and, at times, hostility, that Hispanics have so often faced. Attentive to the pastoral demands implicit in the Hispanic presence, he explains the spiritual and theological riches of Latino Catholicism. Hispanic Catholics have repeatedly been viewed merely as objects of pastoral concern (as important as that is) and not also as bearers of profound spiritual and theological wisdom, as mere objects of evangelization rather than also as evangelizers.

As theologian and historian Matovina is well-qualified to examine this dynamic. He calls attention to the central significance of “popular Catholicism,” or popular religious devotions, in the lives of Latino Catholics. Noting the groundbreaking work of priest-theologian Virgilio Elizondo since the 1970’s and of subsequent generations of Hispanic theologians, Matovina examines the emergence of U.S. Latino Catholic theology as an intellectual movement rooted in the lived faith of Latino Catholics. Devoting a chapter to lay apostolic movements, he likewise analyzes the crucial role of movements such as the Cursillo de Cristiandad in fostering ecclesial engagement and spiritual vitality among Latino Catholics. These lay movements have provided Latino Catholics with the kind of lively worship and personal fellowship reminiscent of Catholic worship in their native countries but often encountered only in Pentecostal and evangelical communities in the United States.

In sum, this book will surely become a touchstone for historical scholarship on U.S. Latino Catholicism. A work that represents the culmination of many years of research (both in libraries and in...


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