Catholicism is incredibly prevalent in Latin American countries. It is part of their culture that identifies them as a set of people. Over 69 percent of Latin Americans identify themselves as Roman Catholic, making Latin America home to over 40 percent of all Catholics across the globe. In Bel Canto we consistently see the role that Catholicism plays in this countries culture. Throughout each chapter we have seen the importance it has in the way the citizens and hostage takers act in different situations. Here in Chapter 3 it is even more prevalent with the importance that Father Arguedas has with his prayers over the accompanist, and his ability to stand up to the hostage takers and them not strike him down as they would anyone else.
Last summer I spent a few weeks down in Mexico on a missions trip with my church. Here I really got to see first hand how important Catholicism was in Latin America today. It is said that Catholicism has declined in the recent years, as 90 percent identified themselves as Catholic before the 21st century. I thought this was incredible when I found this statistic, because I felt like almost everyone in Mexico last year would have said they were Catholic. After thinking though, I came to the conclusion that most likely it isn’t that they identify themselves with this religion, but instead they just have a great deal of respect for the religion. It seems to be that they all believe that there is a God, but that they just do not want to serve Him. I experienced so many situations last year that lead me to believe this. One being that the gang members and drug dealers in Mexico had a huge respect for the church and would never mess with those involved in the church. One evening I was outside at the mission center and my friend, his wife, and I watched as 2 cars with gang members inside drove by with guns. It freaked us out a bit, but then w found out a little while later from the locals involved at the ministry that they meant no harm, they drive by a lot to show that they are protecting them and support their work. If that doesn’t show how immense their respect is, I’m not sure what else could.
Well, I guess there is one more worth mentioning. Often times members of these gangs in Latin America will become converts and turn to Catholicism instead of their old ways of being “gang bangers”. When this happens, the leaders of the gang in their region will get a group together to go beat the new convert up. They will beat them and repeatedly ask them if they truly want to serve God, if they truly are a convert. Those that still say yes after being beaten they will let go and never harm again. Those that give up and say it wasn’t real get beaten more and more, and most o the time they will end up killing them for disrespecting the Catholic religion by faking it. It is an incredibly brutal approach to the situation, but it goes a long way to show how highly they hold God and religion in Latin America.
I really think that this is similar to the situations in Chapter 3 with Father Arguedas and the generals. I can think of two times that he stands up to the hostage takers and they do nothing to him, because they feel they can not since he is part of the church leadership in their country. The first instance is when he refused to leave the house and be released with the other hostages that were chosen to leave. He told them he refused to leave even after they said no you have to leave, but none of them physically would make him leave, nor would they hurt him. The next occurrence was when he was speaking with the general and disrespected him by saying, “I wasn’t asking you if I could give him his last rites”. They all wanted to slap him, but the “power of the Church” would not allow them to do it. No matter it is in Latin America, it seems that almost everyone has a tremendous amount of respect for the religion, God, and the Church.
What I am curious to see is how much more Father Arguedas will be able to get away with before the generals hurt him or kick him out. I don’t think that their respect for the Church will be able to continue the toleration of a man disrespecting them in this sort of situation. It seems that they will end up getting fed up at some point and respond with violence towards him. You can already see the tension that is building up within them, who knows how much more they will be willing to take.