Mexican Catholic Enrique Bucio arrived in suburban Chicago from Michoacan state with his wife and daughter 13 years ago. But he didn't look for a church, because he was afraid of "going to the wrong one."

"Back on the ranch, we heard from people who had been to the United States and had bad experiences," says Bucio, 43. "A friend said that at one church he visited, they introduced him, and everything seemed directed at him. It was a little strange."

They also found it strange that money in the offering basket went right back to those in the congregation. Bucio doesn't know what kind of church his countryman visited, but it wasn't the Roman Catholic service he and his friends were accustomed to.

Like many of the immigrants that helped Latinos become the largest U.S. minority last month (37 million, versus 36.1 million African Americans), Bucio found himself awash in religious options. He and his family don't attend church regularly. But when they do, they go to a Spanish-language Catholic service in Bloomingdale, Illinois. That's where his brother brought him when Bucio still had no car.

Despite a growth spurt in Hispanic Protestant services and a steady departure of Latinos from Catholic parishes, Bucio is illustrative of many immigrants from Latin America who default to the familiar. Contrary to popular belief and previous predictions, the percentage of Catholics among Latinos since 1988 has remained fairly constant. In 2002, 70.2 percent (nearly 25 million) of all U.S. Hispanics identified themselves as Roman Catholics.

That is the conclusion of a study released last week by Hispanic Churches in American Public Life (HCAPL). Gaston Espinosa, project manager for ...

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