September 22, 2015

Many U.S. Catholics will understand Pope Francis’ Spanish-language Mass

When Pope Francis leads Mass on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., he will speak not in English, but in his native Spanish.

Leaders in the Catholic Church say the pope’s delivery in Spanish serves as a nod to the new saint he will canonize, Junipero Serra, a Spanish-American missionary who established a chain of missions in California during the late 1700s. While the pope is most comfortable speaking Spanish, the church’s Latino population in the U.S. is growing and now makes up one-third of the flock.

Catholic Hispanics More Likely to Use SpanishBecause Spanish is the most common language spoken by Americans except for English, the pope will find a large share of his parishioners able to understand his message.

A majority of all Hispanic adults identify as Catholic and a large majority of Hispanic Catholics speak Spanish fluently, according to our 2013 National Survey of Latinos. Eight-in-ten Hispanic Catholics use mostly Spanish or are bilingual. In fact, they are more likely to be Spanish speakers than non-Catholic Hispanics (68%).

Foreign-Born Hispanics More Likely to Be CatholicOne reason so many Hispanic Catholics speak Spanish is that two-thirds (65%) are foreign born. Nearly all Hispanic immigrants (95%) mainly use Spanish or are bilingual. By comparison, about half as many U.S.-born Hispanics (44%) mainly use Spanish or are bilingual.

The large number of immigrants in the U.S. from Mexico, a country with a strong Catholic tradition, contributes to the large presence of Hispanic immigrants within the church. Mexican immigrants make up 41% of U.S. Hispanic Catholic adults, while Mexican immigrants account for 34% of all Hispanic adults in the U.S.

While Hispanic immigrants have helped make the U.S. Catholic Church bilingual, the share of Hispanic Catholics who only attend worship services in Spanish has declined in recent years. In 2013, 39% of Hispanic Catholic churchgoers said they attended worship services in Spanish every time, down from 60% in 2007.

Topics: Immigration, Immigration Attitudes, Language, Catholics and Catholicism, Hispanic/Latino Identity, Mexico

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Mary2 years ago

    We should all learn from the Pope and people from Europe that they speak several languages.

  2. Rational ExCatholic2 years ago

    Why on earth would anyone listen to someone who believes a vengeful bearded old man in the sky made everything and cares about who we sleep with. Not to mention believes in magic, that people live to 800 and the laws of physics can be broken by one guy. Whenever he feels like it.

    Where is heaven? Show me, on a map. We’ve mapped every corner of the solar system. Explain how we get there. Do those things and I will stop calling religious people misguided.

    1. dani2 years ago

      odd, I didn’t realize that this article was about a religious existential crisis. i thought it was about the pope speaking spanish. huh.

  3. marjane522 years ago

    Sorry but if they are hispanic they must speak Spanish because thatis what the word means,May be Americans will stop having so many racial problems if they stop dividing people,caring so much in mentionig the race of a person everywhere ad creating new races or changing the meanig of words like hispanic, that only means for real hispanics that your first language is Spanish and it is really a very eurocentric word.