"I'll take two chili, uh..." a hungry customer stammers at the front of a two-hour-long line. "Chile rellenos," the money-handler trills back in perfect Spanish. This is not a trendy Tex-Mex restaurant; and it's more than 1,000 miles from the Mexican border.
The stuffed pepper causing the stutter is the hottest menu item at St. Cecilia's Lenten fish fry in St. Louis, Missouri. Chile rellenos, a traditional Mexican dish, have replaced fish as the main draw for Catholics giving up meat on Fridays. This century-old parish founded by German immigrants has turned 85 percent Hispanic.
"It's the browning of the Catholic Church in the United States," says Pedro Moreno Garcia, who until last month led the Hispanic ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Moreno Garcia points to St. Cecilia's Spanish-dominant Mass schedule as a sign of the times.
"Hispanics are the present and Hispanics are the future of the Catholic Church in the United States," says Moreno Garcia.
One-third of all Catholics in the United States are now Latinos thanks to immigration and higher fertility rates, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. While St. Cecilia's parish has relished the growth, elsewhere, the Latino population boom has rocked the pews.
"Instead of screaming out, 'The British are coming!' " Moreno Garcia says some people are screaming, " 'The Hispanics are coming! The Hispanics are coming! Run, run.' "
A self-described Nuyorican or Puerto Rican from New York, Moreno Garcia says even he gets mislabeled.
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