Veneration of Guadalupe statue in Methodist church sparks controversy

.- Some Hispanic members of “Amor de Dios” United Methodist Church in Chicago celebrated the traditional feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe yesterday. They even prayed their first novena as a community to the Virgin this year. They processed a 2-foot-high statue around the neighborhood, singing, reciting the rosary and bringing it into parishioners’ homes for prayer.

This feast has sparked some concern among other Methodist churches, which consider the veneration of statues idolatry. It has also raised concern among local Catholic parishes, which worry that the church might be presenting itself as something that it is not.

But Rev. Oscar Carrasco, director of connectional ministries for the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, told the Chicago Tribune that exploring practices such as venerating the Virgin Mary could further the ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Methodists.

The church pastor, Rev. Jose Landaverde, said he sees no harm in embracing a tradition that might bring people closer to God. He agreed to keep the statue of the Virgin even after most of the church’s 15 founding parishioners left when Latino parishioners placed it in the sanctuary last year.

The 31-year-old student pastor, formerly a Catholic seminarian, said the Virgin is an unofficial national symbol of Mexico. He believes that a church must embrace cultural traditions if it is to make disciples for Jesus Christ in transitional communities.

An activist for migrant workers, Landaverde joined the Methodist church in 1998. In 2000, he organized an advocacy group for Chicago day laborers, and in 2003 he enrolled to become a Methodist pastor.

Many of the Catholic workers and families that he helped have joined Amor de Dios. Since his arrival in June 2003, the congregation has swelled from 15 members to 150 members and about 100 regular Sunday visitors.

Parishioner Oscar Hernandez, who grew up Catholic in El Salvador but now considers himself a Methodist, told the Chicago Tribune that he and his fellow parishioners “don't want to take away the faith that this community has, but we want to nourish it."

"Since I was little, it's always been right to have the Virgin Mary in the church," Olivia Serrato, 40, told the Tribune. "It's now a great honor to bring the Virgin Mary to my Methodist church. Before I didn't feel complete."

In the U.S., currently, churches of all denominations are competing to serve the growing Latino community. Though Latinos are traditionally Catholic, more have been gravitating toward evangelical and mainline Protestant churches in recent years.

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