Migrant Hearts and the Atlantic Return
by Valentina Napolitano
During the course of her book, Valentina Napolitano mentions a host of tensions and dilemmas that apparently define the relationship between Rome and the Latin American Church.
“The longstanding and unhelpful division between popular and institutional Catholicism” makes an appearance, as does the “Catholic Church’s entrenched anxiety about the never-ending project of the full conversion of the Americas”.
In addition, strong regionalism “interrupts the Catholic Church’s desire to forge a ‘common’ Catholic identity of pan-Americanism”, while colonial legacies and stresses between centre and periphery only add to the muddle. Napolitano is an anthropologist and these are her attempts to codify a complex phenomenon. The results are interesting, if frequently reductive. Her musings stem mainly from field-work conducted among Latin American immigrants in Rome. It is within such communities that she finds signs of all the aforementioned problems and anxieties.
The nuts and bolts of her account are truly fascinating. She spends time looking at two key organisations: the Misión Latino Americana, which provides pastoral care, mainly to women from across Latin America, and helps to find them jobs; and the Comunidad Católica Mexicana, which caters largely for mixed Italo-Mexican couples and celebrates national Mexican events. There are also studies of popular celebrations, including those around the Virgin of Guadalupe, and comparisons between the methods deployed by the Jesuits and the Legionaries of Christ.
Napolitano takes a “lived religion” approach backed up with heavy doses of theory, and as a work of reportage the book has much to offer. The author also places her findings in context: we hear a great deal about the Church’s increasingly dynamic response to the challenges and opportunities of migration. Many of the book’s interpretative brushstrokes are, alas, too broad, and the tales of conflict between old and new ideas or the tension between “Sameness and Otherness” are just, well, too neatly anthropological.
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