Cuautla # 931. Different ways of being an upper-middle-class Catholic in Mexico City1

Received: May 24, 2019

Acceptance: October 11, 2019


The present article exposes the religious orientations within an upper-middle-class Catholic family in the Hipódromo-Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. As a result of ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, the data is presented in the format of a free narrative that reveals three different orientations: conservative Catholicism, the search for new experiences within the ecclesial institution and the generational inflection influenced by the environment. Social. All revolving around a dynamic Catholic culture that interacts with the great orientations of the world Church and with the growing religious diversity in urban areas.

Keywords: , , ,

Cuautla 931: Different Ways To Be A Upper-Middle-Class Catholic In Mexico City

The present article sheds light on religious orientations inside an upper-middle-class Catholic family in Mexico City's Hipódromo-Condesa neighborhood. The outcome of ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, the data is presented in the form of a free narrative that reveals three different orientations: conservative Catholicism; the search for new experiences within the ecclesiastic institution; and generational inflection as influenced by social surroundings, all centered on a dynamic Catholic culture that interacts with the global church's major trends as well as with increasing religious diversity in urban centers.

Keywords: Catholicism, Catholic diversity, urban religiosities, religion in Mexico City.


ROberto opens the doors of his house for us and receives us –almost immediately, before finishing crossing the entrance hall– with a forceful phrase: “I was trained with the Teresian nuns, for which I thank God, especially in these times when this is the country of banality, frivolity, nonsense, let's no longer talk about corruption, impunity, inequality, cynicism, injustice, in short. Come on in, I'm going to show you my home ”.

It is Saturday afternoon. In a course that I took on architecture in the Condesa and Hipódromo colonies of Mexico, trying to better understand the religious question of this place that I now study as a counterpoint to other works on popular expressions of faith,3 I met Mathilde, a seventy-one-year-old woman who has lived at the Hippodrome for almost half a century. She is originally from San Luis Potosí, she belatedly studied for a degree in Hispanic Letters at the unam, but never exercised. He left San Luis at the age of eleven, then he went to live in Orizaba (Veracruz), and in the mid-sixties he moved to Mexico City with his entire family. Almost immediately she met her husband, Roberto, in the same workplace: the National Bank of Mexico. He soon married and had two daughters who are now forty-nine and forty-seven years old, one married, one divorced. She is the grandmother of three children.

Roberto comes from a large and very religious Michoacan family, he is a few years older than Mathilde, he was going to become a priest, he even went to seminary and received a formal Catholic education. He is a lawyer, he taught for several years, but is now retired and in poor health. He speaks loudly, listens little, moves slowly, but keeps lucidity and poise. He guards the Catholic doxa with zeal, goes to Mass regularly and defends his religious position with determination and enthusiasm.

As one more activity in the course I'm taking on these neighborhoods, Mathilde generously invites us to her home to get to know a typical family from the neighborhood inside. The small group of five people go and we are led through each of the bedrooms. The house is a sober, white, two-story building with discreet fine wood windows and a small balcony on the second floor. All very clean, harmonious. Inside, very spacious, with several rooms, many internal reforms according to specific needs. It is a place with life, according to each of the needs of its owners.

The first pictures on the side walls of the entrance are a pair of colonial archangels, but Mathilde insists that she likes pictures of couples kissing better, like Gustav Klimt's. In the background, a poster with a phrase by Saint Teresa of Jesus in italics: “Nothing disturbs you, nothing frightens you. Everything passes, God does not change. Patience achieves everything, whoever has nothing is lacking for God: only God is enough ”.

In the dining room there is a large original watercolor of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, as well as wooden furniture and a chandelier on a crochet fabric. In the room religious paintings are combined with landscapes of different kinds; furniture with fine tapestries, side tables with porcelain ornaments, everything reveals the typical upper-middle-class aesthetic of the area. A small side table houses, as in a display case, a collection of antique clocks with two discreet vases. Nothing hurts.4

We go to an internal solarium that is the transition from the public space for the reception of formal guests to the micro-places of family privacy. There the walls have pure reproductions - of poor aesthetic and commercial quality - of famous or even funny phrases that Roberto reads to us eagerly, leaning on one of his plastic chairs. On the marble table there is a newspaper of the day and the magazine Process of the week.

Around a world map that takes up most of a side wall is Pablo Neruda. Roberto says that when he was teaching, after having been critical and having shown the misfortune of this country, he gave his students a copy of this reflection of the Chilean poet who says: “And there is no one in America, not even on the planet. , a country of greater human depth than Mexico and its men. Through its human successes as through its gigantic mistakes, the same chain is seen, of deep vitality, of inexhaustible history, of endless germination ”.

The Nobel Prize shares his lyrics with biblical passages, some tiles with messages in Hebrew, a cross, a metal plate with Psalm 23 (22): "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing", and a small frame with what that it would be a paradox for someone with Roberto's intellectual ambition: "If you want to have happy days, become an asshole, don't analyze."

As we move between the kitchen and the stairs, the owner of the house tells us about his travels, he claims to have visited the five continents. He leads us to his desk at the top, where he houses his library, “it is full of books, we no longer know what to do with all that, here I have the complete collection of the magazine ProcessI would like to sell it, let someone take advantage of it, but I have not found who is interested ”. True, there you have from a poster by Diego Ribera to pictures of Don Quixote, through diplomas of studies, encyclopedias, magazines, an old desk, and a table for six people full of papers, pens, clippings and open books.

In traffic, the corners especially loaded with content, more emotional than intellectual, become important, and it is Mathilde who is in charge of explaining them. The landing of the steps has a crucifix attached to the wall with a light that shines from above that invites a religious atmosphere. The walls show many family photos, but the place for the graphic memory is reserved in the adjoining room on the second floor. The back wall is made of pure wood, in the center another crucifix under a skylight from where the light descends onto a comfortable sofa for two, having previously illuminated the Nazarene. The side wall is crammed with small, well-framed photos - slightly larger than postcard size - with all the characters and episodes from the family's history. They are color, black and white, studio, posed, natural, amateurs or professionals. The fact is that in all of them there are one or two fundamental characters for them, each painting reached that wall at some point and keeps a particular story that could be told in weeks of uninterrupted storytelling.

The central bedroom, the last private space, has on the wall of the bed an image of a nun in a position of prayer looking upwards, with folded hands, in a carved dark wood frame. The bedside book collection seals the couple's religious option: three Bibles, a New Testament, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the work Theology of Christian perfection (by Antonio Royo) and two Larousse dictionaries.


Weeks after the first group visit, I make an appointment with Mathilde. Now only with her to better understand her religious history. During the conversation, at some point her husband, and then her daughter, joined, composing a polyphony with three different tracks of religious experience within the same Catholic family.

Mathilde was trained within the Church, as it was said, first in San Luis Potosí and then in Orizaba: "the truth is that I have always been Catholic, I studied at a Catholic school, I was Catholic, I practiced religion, Catholicism." Her father was never very believing, eventually he went to Mass more to set a paternal example than out of conviction, "but that he was a practitioner-practitioner, no," says his daughter. The mother, on the other hand, was closer to the Church and promoted a religious formation of the girls: in addition to fulfilling the sacraments to the letter (baptism, first communion, confirmation, Eucharist), they studied in Catholic schools administered by nuns in every city that they lived. In spite of that, she was in a quarrel with her mother and her adolescence was rather distant, which was reversed when she married Roberto, he was "very believing, with a true Catholic way of life," which led by stricter practices.5 In her life of personal faith, beyond the religious direction of her husband, she did not leave her searches and concerns, building her own path.

Throughout her life Mathilde was linked to the ecclesial structure, be it through schools or parishes. It has been growing in its religious gaze until it reaches, at present, a “mature, adult religion, which is based on study”. In effect, at different times his claim was to get closer to "the most advanced, the advanced priests" within the Church. His demands on the clergy are also growing. He values the explanation and the preparation of the authorities: "I always look for the most advanced masses, sometimes I get such poorly prepared band-aids that they don't take his sermon seriously."

Before, he believed more in a religion based "on pure prayer, on the rosary, on going to Mass and taking Bible classes", instead now he leans towards a religion "embodied in life." His vision of God was radically transformed; If before he perceived him with fear, as a judge who distributes rewards and punishments, which entails an eternal debt for all that he received for his goodness, then he discovered it not as a vigilante, he knew that “I don't have to pay anything, God won't to be a judge asking me how much you owe me, how much did you pay me ”. Even today his idea of God is closer to holistic, and it is an ongoing reflection, doubtless, not dogmatic:

Sometimes I get confused and say, is there really a higher being or am I part of that God that we all are? Now, as an old woman, new concerns have come to me. When I read the Bible and it says that God made us in his image and likeness, I believe that we are a cell of that God. I consider myself that way, I am part of God, and that is why I have to respect the other, because he is the same as me. That is why God is everywhere, I feel his presence in nature, in the family. We are part of it, we adhere to that force, that supreme being ... My beliefs, my ideology have changed a lot.

In some of the courses he took, a priest told him that when reading the Bible he should not cling to the characters but to the message. She was scared thinking what would happen if everything she learned as a child was false, that the prophets did not exist, but the teacher explained to her that the "real" existence of this or that character does not matter, "what matters is that he tells you a history so that it is the history of your life, so that you take it as an example of life ”. On another occasion, in a Bible class offered by the Dominicans, he again qualified the myth that we all come from Adam and Eve, or that Noah's Ark existed: “I no longer take everything like this at face value, the Bible it is written to be interpreted, there you talk between the lines ”. In short, again, "a religion more embodied in life."

His relationship with the sacraments and with a part of ecclesial formality has not changed substantially, "I do believe faithfully in the sacraments, in the special grace of each one of them, nobody can take that away from me." Pray daily, go to mass on Sundays, take communion once a month. But all in a climate of reinterpretation and criticism. Little is confessed, "and not for God to forgive me, I stopped believing in that, I became very LightAs my husband says, I think there are things that are not important to confess to. Before I thought that not going to mass once was a mortal sin, now I say that mortal sin is when you are unfair to the one who works with you, or when you are stealing from your workers ”.

The issue of morality and sexuality, which is non-negotiable on the part of the religious authorities, is digested in another way by Mathilde. She says that after she had her daughters, she spoke seriously with her husband. Its context was unfavorable because "here the men are very macho and they think they have to have many children." Her sisters suffered horrible scolding, even once, when one of them wanted to receive communion, it occurred to her to say that she was taking contraceptives and the priest denied her communion. She resolved the issue in the private sphere with her husband, who told her: “this is a family problem, it is yours, mine and God's, nobody is going to interfere; paternity is decided by us, be it with the use of pills, not having intercourse or whatever, it is just your problem, mine and from above ”. Something similar happened with abortion. For a long time she was blunt, but then she had “contact with reality, with the people most in need” through various missions, and she could see that there are times when it would be much better if some mothers could have had an abortion. "I never would, but I can't judge anymore."

As a “restless, searching, advanced and studious” believer, she has tried, always under the ecclesial mantle, some alternative experiences. As part of a prayer workshop with the Carmelites, he met a priest who proposed the prayer of the "Our Father with the body, for that he used the technique of Buddhism, breathing, prayer and oriental wisdom." Even on many occasions luck has been read on the hand, coffee, tobacco without any problem.

His relationship with popular religiosity has always been distant, typical of his class origin. “I never had the custom of the altar of the dead, that is indigenous, combined with the Catholic, but it was of indigenous origin, I had no relationship with that, although now that I am studying anthropology I find very beautiful things in the religions of the indigenous peoples ”. The same with the Virgin of Guadalupe. He says that "for me she was just any Virgin, until once an Italian nun was staying, one of those who have a lot of openness, very ecumenical, and she would go to the Villa and say 'the Virgin chose you to stay' . After that, seeing that she was so interested, I got into anthropology and studied religions, pre-Hispanic spirituality, and now I know that it is very beautiful ”. Thus, his approach to Guadalupe comes more from the invitation of the nun than from an act of faith, and his resolution rests on university knowledge and less on practice: “I realized that making appearances and all that was a trick of the Spaniards to be able to evangelize the indigenous more; but what matters, the true miracle, is not so much the appearance of the Virgin but the emergence of the Mexican race from the Spanish and the indigenous ”.

While Mathilde concludes by saying of herself “I have always been a very restless person, that's how I consider myself, I have always walked in a plan of much search”, Roberto joins the room and the conversation.

When I explain to the husband the content of the gathering, he emphasizes that he is a man of faith, a convinced Catholic who has a strong, intense religion and that since he was a child he was very attached to the Church. “I went to Mass every day, then every week because I'm sick, but if I could, I would go to the parish every day. I am a man of faith ”. He complains that the neighbors do not participate in the life of the parish, that there is a religion Light that everyone follows, "people no longer go to church, so many young people have come to live in the colony ... it is not like before."

Roberto, as a retired lawyer, is a person of laws, he believes in them: "the law is the law, without the law we cannot live." But consider that morality, dogma, the Bible and the Church should be at the base of everything. His political, pedagogical and vital proposal is to be faithful to the Gospel, and “preach with the word, with the example”. As he speaks, his spirits are alight and his voice increases, he takes a book that he is holding in his hands and reads us an excerpt:

There is a progressive degradation of society, for many people Christ no longer has any relevance in their lives, there is ignorance of the Christian faith, its teachings are not followed and there is a distancing from the Church, there is no time for God, there is no religious practice , there is no prayer, sacraments, mass; lack of evidence of Christian love of neighbor, secularization spreads, working, living well, having things, having fun is the only thing that matters in life. There are not enough apostolate groups that are witness to Christ and education in the faith, religious practice has decreased a lot, there is increasing moral deterioration, family disintegration, sexual debauchery, overwhelming selfishness, dishonesty, corruption, insecurity and violence ...

Then take another book and insist, reading aloud another passage:

The problem is the individualistic culture that is being lived against the concept of family. The individual, the self opposed to the group. Instead of love, consumerism reigns, stress instead of orderly and harmonious life, magazines of the heart instead of books, all this wrapped up by television, through which very little culture is acquired ... In recent years, psychological consumption has begun to triumph, chained to cultivating narcissism, horoscopes, the opinion of the psychiatrist or the psychoanalyst.

The dramatic diagnosis of our time constructed from different sources - and faithfully taken up by Roberto - is the consequence of the people's estrangement from Catholicism. The solution is to return to the Church, to the Scriptures: "what was left in the Gospels, what was written about the life of Jesus is very complete, it encompasses all areas and all times." The way out is "to put life in the Gospel, and that's how the world is changed."

The couple is debating in their own discussions that reveal their differences, she interrupts him, he responds violently: "Don't confuse, let me finish!", She turns to address me: "You see, there we differ a lot, I differ a lot from he in that sense, he as a good lawyer, everything is law and order and what the Holy Mother Church commands, ”and then the daughter, Claudia, 47 years old (born in 1970), who is passing through the room, walks through the room. before going to pick up her girls from school. He is interested in the conversation and gets involved quickly, finally he is in one of the many episodes of religious-argumentative disagreements that he has lived for years.

Claudia grew up in Catholic schools, lived practically her entire life in the heart of Mexico City, studied at a private university and works in a company. His thick accent is a hallmark of his class trajectory. She received all the sacraments, she considers herself a global believer, but takes a marked distance from her father and the doctrine: “I am more about serving my neighbor than serving the law”, she underlines looking at Roberto, “I am baptized, apostolic and Roman Catholic, but I am very much against what the Church says ”. In fact, she is divorced and remarried, so if she were very strict, she would say that she is living in sin, although "I never cared about receiving Communion." He loves to try other mystical offerings, from having his hand read to having a birth chart (he claims he has it and keeps it carefully).

In this direction, a few years ago Claudia came into contact with a mystical group for the study of eschatology with whom she met formally once a week; There she met a teacher who marked her and learned other things from the spiritual experience:

The teacher has taught us that we are a particle of God. Being a particle means that I am God to myself. It is not a position of pride, but of strength. Now I know that the force is not outside, it is with me, I have it. In life we are individuals and each one decides his life, we are responsible for our destiny. The Catholic religion tells us that we come to suffer, to suffer, that we have to earn our bread with the sweat of our brow, but I do not agree. Life is simpler, freer, easier if we think of it differently. For us number one is Jesus Christ, not the Church. I love repeating a phrase that we said in the group: “I am mind, I am life, I am self-sufficient, I am self-sustaining; I am never affected by external conditions, people or things, it all depends on what I interpret from them. Nothing is going to affect me negatively ”. That thought, that life experience - more than a religion - was applied by many, including Gandhi and Mandela.

I ask him: "and do you still consider yourself a Catholic?" "Well yes," he says, doubting, "although I was already excommunicated for a long time because I am divorced and I remarried, I could no longer receive communion in public ..." Reviro: "Is your religion ...?" "I couldn't tell you, I come from a Catholic tradition, but at this point I don't know ...", he concludes.


In Cuautla 931 three different religious forms coexist that share a common root.6 The septuagenarian couple was born in the early 1940s, both in states of the Republic. He comes from a rural area of Michoacán, especially Catholic. His religious socialization was attached to the ecclesial structure, from which he did not leave at any time in his life. Even today, when his physical and mental health deteriorate, all his effort continues in the fulfillment of his duties of faith. Not only has he received the sacraments in due time and form, but he also projected himself towards the priesthood. When he chose married life, he did so in accordance with Catholic protocols, he formed a family very close to the Church. His professional life reinforced his convictions. He became a lawyer and professor, a law student and a promoter of knowledge. He is restless about social reality, anguished by the laxity of consciences, by the decline in the importance of dogma.

Mathilde's trajectory, although similar, has some differences. Although his parents were globally Catholic, he was so out of inertia - he confesses that deep down he was an atheist - and she, although more formal, regularly clashed with her daughter, especially when she reached adolescence. They lived in small cities with relative dynamism, a logic less ranchero than Roberto's and tended to be more urban and diverse, which was building a Catholicism with a greater willingness to listen to other voices. But both of them became adults, parents and professionals on the way to the city in the sixties, where they lived as a well-off upper middle class, with two daughters and enjoying the benefits of their position.

It was the couple's first turn - and with the tensions inherited from the 1920s that was expressed in the Cristero War that occurred in areas very close to their own - the launch of a social pastoral that, throughout Latin America, promoted instances of reception and participation of the faithful such as Catholic Action, whose peak was between the 1940s and 1950s. They then lived through the intense years of transition of the Church, from the aggiornamento that meant the Second Vatican Council –which came to them when they were university students– to the most radical positions, with strong influence in Mexico, such as Liberation Theology, the meeting of the celam in Medellín in 1968 or the pastoral work of Sergio Méndez Arceo in Cuernavaca. But instead of following the path of a broad sector of Catholic families that became promoters of the new Vatican airs in Mexico - a role that José Álvarez Icaza, a member with his wife of the Christian Family Movement, and founder of the National Center played in an exemplary way. of Social Communication and active militant of leftist groups–, Roberto and Mathilde each followed a different route within the Church. He is inscribed in the tradition of dogmatic, conservative Catholicism, still very sensitive to the pre-Vatican II discourse, with fear of society and its development, atheism and communism, and the promotion of a return to the most fundamental values and dogmas as a mechanism to avoid social and ecclesial hecatomb. Without approaching positions of rupture such as the movement of the French Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre - we must not forget that the Lefebvrist split has its followers in Mexico - Roberto somehow embodies the wave that later, decades later, settled in Rome with the papacy of Benedict xvi in 2005.7

Mathilde is an eclectic Catholic seeker, with a sensitivity for literature, who studies at the public university, experiences new expressions always close to the Church. But his constant commitment is to follow the "advanced ones", the Jesuits, the Dominicans, those who have a different way of understanding religious life. Her process leads her to qualify her own positions, even departing from the Catholic mandate –for example, in its relationship with the use of contraceptives–, but she even goes so far as to question one of the bastions of the doctrine, such as the fight against the decriminalization of abortion. In the same direction, his idea of God linked to punishment, the devil, hell, sin, transits –and makes his doubts and questions openly explicit– towards a form of collectivity and participation of all in divinity. It is also that openness that allows him to go through oriental religiosities, yoga and even divination practices.8 Somehow, part of his way of living the faith is closer to the spirit of the papacy of Francis that began in 2013.

With his daughter Claudia the story is different. She was born in 1970, follows a formal and parochial religious formation in the Church. All his life unfolds in the Hipódromo neighborhood, which is historically characterized as a mainstay in the implementation of a "modern" urban lifestyle.9 with many foreigners, a high level of university education, a large percentage of young adults, a high rate of social development, innovations in territorial organization and the formats of public behavior.10 Predictably, he studied at a private university, then entered the labor market with relative success, married in the Church and became independent, had children, and divorced. Sensitive to home-built spirituality, she lives an inflection and is seduced by a deinstitutionalized informal religious form that gives her answers and satisfies her faith needs, articulating her individuality, her sense of effort, work and success, and her idea. general of the divine. Without guilt, with faith; without dogmas, with action in daily life: "the neighbor, not the law." Although Claudia underlines the difference with her father, her proposal is not a radical break with what she has learned at home, rather it is a way of touching the borders, opening them, without looking for a new religious enterprise.11

The family analyzed here is a small sample of the coexistence of different orientations within upper-middle-class urban Mexican Catholicism. It must be emphasized that the tone of class permeates everyone in a forceful way, in the whole home there is not an image of a saint that deserves a candle, there is many pictures, words, Bibles, books, crucifixes, messages, but not images of veneration . Popular religiosity just doesn't cut through there. Between the parents the two orientations are the result of a generational evolution and the echo of the great discussions of world Catholicism; the greater distance is introduced by the daughter with a fracture - which does not break - age. In any case, what is revealed is the possibility of coexistence, with tensions and differences, in various ways of living the faith that the Catholic Church allows.

The house in which the family has been living for almost half a century is a synthesis that expresses faith and social class. His paintings, his messages, his ornaments, the arrangement of his spaces are the condensation of the way of believing and of the lifestyle built with determination over many years.12


It often happens to us sociologists - or at least to those of us who strive to build knowledge through the word of the other - that those we interview have a deep distrust, or simply a lack of interest, in what we are doing. Some time while I was interacting with believers in the rural Guanajuato area, a peasant reproached me: “Why are you investigating so much? It seems to me that it is not for the Saint! "

In Cuautla # 931, when I start the exchange with Roberto, he asks me the direct question: "Your questions and questions, do they have any purpose?" Fifteen minutes later he comes back “and who is this for? Why that job? ". I explain to him that I am a researcher, that I am doing a study on religious orientations in Mexico City, and that I am very interested in what they can tell me because his family had an intense history close to Catholicism.

I think I am convincing in my speech and the long exchange continues, but before I leave, at the end of the interview, he, his wife, his daughter and I stood in the same corridor in which he received us a few months ago with the group that We visited him that Saturday afternoon, he kindly says goodbye to me with one last question: "What religion do you have?" It is the most difficult question for a sociologist of religion, I take time to answer, I dodge and I take refuge in the argument I go to in these cases: “I couldn't tell you, I come from the Catholic tradition, but I no longer know. I am more in charge of observing others than of questioning myself ”.13 He insists: “who commissioned this from you?”, I come back: “it's for the university, for an investigation”. "Sure? I'm going to believe you this time ”, he concludes.


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EncartesVol. 5, No. 10, September 2022-February 2023, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 22, 2022.