Every Sunday, after the Spanish Mass, there is always a line of men waiting patiently for me as I bid farewell to my parishioners. They wait in the back of church near a table where I keep a reserve of holy cards of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe). Each man approaches me very humbly and says, “Padre, quiero hacer unjuramento.” (Father, I want to make an oath.)1 The oath that they are referring to is known in Spanish as “un juramento,” a special promise to stop drinking, smoking and/or taking drugs.
|La Virgen de Guadalupe Shutterstock
At first, I give each man a holy card with the picture of La Guadalupe on it. Then, I take each one separately and question them as I fill out the back of the card: a prayer with blanks to fill in. The prayer reads:
Señor, tú sabes que te amo y que me arrepiento profundamente de Cómo he desperdiciado mi vida en el vicio y cómo he hecho sufrir a la gente que amo. Por eso, Señor, al darme cuenta del gran error que cometo, delante de ti y de la Santísima Virgen María de Guadalupe,
Yo, ________ _________, PROMETO dejar de ingerir bebidas alcohólicas; drogarme o fumar durante el tiempo de ________. Esta promesa la hago para empezar a vivir como tú quieres y reconquistar el cariño de los que amo.
A ______ de ________ de _______
Lord, you know that I love you and I profoundly repent for having wasted my life in vices and also how I have made people that I love suffer. So, Lord, upon realizing the great error that I have committed, before you and the Very Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe I, ______ ______, PROMISE to stop drinking alcoholic beverages, taking drugs and smoking during the time of __________. I make this promise in order to begin to live as you want me to and to regain the affection of those whom I love.
On ______ of the month of __________in the year _________
After writing their names in the blanks, I ask them for how long they wish to honor this promise. They answer me with various time spans. After filling in the amount of time they wish to keep the promise, I write in the date when they took the oath. The final step is that they sign the holy card, an act that makes the promise official for them. Only men have come forward to make this promise. However, at times wives, girlfriends and mothers have accompanied the men as a sign of support. To my knowledge and according to my experience, no woman has ever taken the promise.
The length of time they choose to honor the oath is a personal decision based on how long they believe that they can resist temptation. For example, there is a young man who comes to see me every three months to renew his oath. He claims that it is easier for him to make this promise for three months rather than for a longer period of time. When the time period ends, many renew their promise.
After the cards have been signed, I walk over with the group of men to the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and together they read aloud the prayer on the back of the holy cards. Afterwards, I say a special prayer asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe to give them strength and stamina in their struggles against vices. Then, together we pray an “Ave Maria” (“Hail Mary”) asking for her help. Then a blessing is given, and I wish them good luck with their newfound life.
The men are very serious about this promise. Often in confession they will ask for forgiveness for having broken this covenant. For them it is a serious sin. As seen, the role of the priest in the Spanish community is unique. He is asked to help in a very official and personal way with those who have serious problems with addictions. Along with doctors and groups like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, a priest is looked upon as being a trusted ally, an important member of a team that helps these men live healthy and holy lives.
It is obvious that their struggles against addiction include a strong religious component. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have a very strong, largely ecumenical base, behind them. However, a “Higher Power,” as in the Twelve Step Program, is not as explicit as “Nuestro Señor” (Jesus) and “La Virgen de Guadalupe.” This help from Jesus and Mary is a unique part of the Hispanic experience in America.
Acculturation is the process by which people adapt to beliefs, values and lifestyle of a new culture. Latinos have tried to acculturate themselves into American society in many different ways. The results have been both positive and negative. It has been found that an important factor in predicting drinking patterns and the taking of drugs in the Spanish immigrant community is the level of acculturation of a person. Living and working in the United States, raising families, having documents and speaking English all contribute to adapting to a new country. However, these ways to acculturation are often difficult and stressful. Due to these pressures, many men turn to drugs and alcohol.
In traditional Latino culture, women do not drink alcohol outside of small family gatherings or other private settings. So, it is difficult to find statistics about Hispanic women and their consumption of alcohol. As for Hispanic men, according to present day statistics, 33 percent of Hispanics will have persistent problems with drinking as compared to only 22.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites.1 In a recent government survey, Hispanic men are the largest ethnic group that consumes the most alcohol in the United States.2 Even though many Latino men have serious problems with alcohol, they are less likely than others to join Alcoholics Anonymous, even though AA groups are free of charge and conducted in Spanish.
The second most important struggle for Hispanics is the problem of drug addiction. Rates for drug addiction are higher than with other groups due to poverty, no insurance, little education, and limited knowledge of English. The stigma for being addicted to drugs is very humiliating for Hispanics, and therefore it makes it harder to address these problems and get help. According to recent studies, illicit drugs are consumed by 13 percent of Latinos in the United States.3 Hispanics numbered about 50.5 million in the 2010 U.S. Census.4
As for tobacco smoking, Hispanic smokers make up 25 percent of all adult smokers in the United States.5 These smokers are overwhelmingly male. Private studies have found that tobacco control programs are few, and are not directed toward Hispanics.
In the United States, the Hispanic population includes a mosaic of cultures. This diversity extends to nationality, traditions, lifestyle and economic status. However, in the Hispanic community there are some similarities, especially related to language and religion. Spanish is the language of communication for many, and most immigrants are Roman Catholic.
For Hispanics, La Virgen de Guadalupe is an important symbol. She is the key component of the immigrants’ human and Catholic existence. For Mexicans and Mexican Americans, La Guadalupe is the representation of Christ’s life and death as applied to the immigrant reality in the United States. However, La Guadalupe is not only Mexican; in 1999, John Paul II in his visit to Mexico declared her the “Patroness of One America.” For the immigrants in the United States, La Virgen de Guadalupe is the living and loving mother of all her orphan children spread throughout the Americas.
La Virgen is also honored in a Christological way as she carries within her womb a new source and center of a new humanity, a mestizo humanity. Virgilio Elizondo explains how Jesus makes us whole again: “In resurrecting Him, God rejects the notion of the rejection of humanity. . . It is from the Resurrection that the entire way of Jesus and every aspect of His life takes on a liberating and salvific signification.”6 Therefore, Jesus, through Mary, helps these men free themselves from the slavery of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes as they take on a new life in a new land. Elizondo writes that the history of the Church, and especially of La Guadalupe, is not merely a record of the past but “the life source of the present and the hidden energy of the new future.” For them, La Guadalupe is the bridge to a wholesome, healthy and holy life.
Addiction to alcohol, tobacco and drugs is a growing problem in the Hispanic community. Help for those stigmatized by drinking, smoking and taking drugs comes from the Catholic Church not only in programs and rehabilitation centers, but also through prayer and love of Mary and Jesus. Religious sisters and priests, trusted by Hispanics, run such programs and offer assistance to those addicted.
Since there is such great respect for the priesthood in this community, these men freely and easily approach priests to ask for help for their addiction. It is our duty as Catholics, but especially as priests, to assist them in body and soul. El juramento is one important and effective way to help Hispanics in the United States who are affected and enslaved by alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This promise leads them to a new life, a whole one that points to an original, holy and healthy mestizaje (integrating) of La Guadalupe into the immigrant experience.
1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol and the Hispanic Community,” National Institute of Health, http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/HispanicFact/Hispanic Fact.htm
2. Addiction Treatment, “Latino and Hispanic Addiction Treatment in the United States,http://www.thegooddrugsguide.com/drugandalcohol treatment population.htm.
3. Carmelo Colon, “Substance Abuse in Latinos,” Microsoft PowerPoint by Clínica Latina UBHC-UMDNJ, Nov. 12, 2007.
4. United States Department of Commerce, “Profile America Facts for Features,” United States Census, http://www.census.gov , Aug. 26, 2011.
5. “Tobacco and Latinos,”https://southdataquitlogic.org, (accessed June 13, 2012).
6. Virgilio Elizondo, “Mestizaje as a Locus of Theological Reflection,” in Beyond Borders: Writings of Virgilio Elizondo and Friends, ed. Timothy Matovina (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), p. 170.
FATHER PULEO is pastor of of St. Patrick Church in Norristown, Pa., and is adjunct professor of Spanish at St. Charles Borromeo University, Philadelphia, and adjunct professor of theology and English at LaSalle University.