It's where they receive most of their help," said Nora Illades, a Mexican who married an American and came to Painesville in 1994. She said that at St. Mary, Spanish speakers receive financial advice and information on obtaining the "metricula," an identification card issued by the Mexican consulate that can open doors formerly closed to Mexican nationals. The metricula is a boon for workers who are not U.S. citizens and who send money back to relatives in Mexico. For them, wiring money can cost huge fees, said Fitzroy Da Silva, a Fifth Third Bank retail associate. Fifth Third and a growing number of banks now accept the metricula card to open a bank account. At least 200 Hispanics, and sometimes as many as 500, attend Mass weekly at St. Mary , said Vellenga, who learned to speak Spanish fluently during his missionary years in El Salvador. This mushrooming community has meant a huge boost to the church's membership rolls. In turn, St. Mary has chosen to be responsive, with Masses in Spanish and by offering special rituals familiar to Mexican Catholics, Vellenga said.
Many non-Christian immigrants are keeping their religions alive in America by looking to an unlikely place: church. In some cases, such as the Chinmaya Mission, stories and songs might be infused with Christian teachings and concepts. In other examples from Buddhist temples to Sikh gurdwaras, immigrant congregations hold Sunday school, summer camps, discussion groups and singing practice -- activities often unheard of in their homelands. And many communities' efforts begin with educational programs for children that later grow to encompass families. At Camp Gurmat, a weeklong retreat for Sikh youth in a woodsy area in Silver Spring, young worshipers spend days and nights learning about Sikh history, identity and scriptures. But much of the program is devoted to helping children navigate their place in the United States.