Stability attracts Latin Americans to Mormonism

Fri Feb 6, 2009 11:00am EST
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By Kylie Stott

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Early on a summer morning in Buenos Aires, two beaming Mormon missionaries welcomed about 100 believers for a three-hour marathon of sermons, singing and discussion groups at the Belgrano Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

In Argentina and across traditionally Catholic Latin America, Latter-day Saints churches such as this one are multiplying, and the region boasts the largest Mormon membership outside the United States, at some 5.2 million people.

Globally the church claims 13.5 million members, a similar number to the world Jewish population. Since the 1950s Mormonism has spread rapidly in Latin America partly because of proximity to the United States, where the religion was born.

The perceived stability and status of the church is also a draw for many Latin Americans who have lived through economic and political turmoil.

"To begin with it wasn't easy, obviously it was a life-changing decision ... But now I have the faith and I have a shield to protect me from society, because today's world is a difficult one," Diego Lacho, a 28-year-old who is the most recent convert in the Belgrano congregation.

Lacho, a casino worker, married a Mormon woman three years ago and was baptized in August. He has learned to follow church rules against smoking, alcohol and coffee.

At the church he joins the cleanly shaved men in suits or collared shirts. The women wear skirts and dresses.

The Belgrano church's wood and velvet hall, which fills twice over each Sunday, is just one of the 692 Latter-day Saints chapels in Argentina. There are 5,500 chapels in all of Latin America, three times the number there were in 1970.   Continued...

<p>Two mormons talk before attending a mass at the Belgrano Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Buenos Aires, December 28, 2008. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci</p>