Friday, November 03, 2006

The Latin American crisis

In the wake of the appointment of Cardinal Hummes [CathHier-CardRating] as the Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, Sandro Magister today looks at the growth of the Pentecostals and Charismatics as measured by a new Pew Forum report. The numbers for Latin America do not look good. The Catholic Church's numbers have declined from over 90% to around 67% in Brazil alone.

[After citing the heavy losses the Brazilian Church has taken:]

The Brazilian Catholic Church has, therefore, experienced severe losses and significant internal changes over the past few decades. The “base ecclesial communities,” which the hierarchy emphasized at first, have restricted the ranks of the faithful instead of expanding them. Liberation theology, which has its origins in Western Europe, has sparked an even more restricted and self-referential élite, the polar opposite of the Charismatic currents that are running wild among the poular classes as well. In recent years, there have been signs of reconsideration in the Catholic hierarchy, as exemplified by the personal evolution of Hummes himself, a member of the Franciscan order of friars minor who was initially of social-progressive leanings, but later drew closer to the Charismatic movement.

In a time when communists were running around the jungles of Latin America doing their thing, liberation theology had its heyday. However, I think that liberation theology was essentially an anomoly that came and went. As the above illustrates, the poor, impoverished masses are drawn to Jesus's message and the piety engendered by that message, be it in the form of the Catholic Church or the Pentecostal groups.

The very next paragraph:

In any case, the perception that the advance of the Pentecostals and Charismatics is the most significant overall new development in Christianity over the last century is far from being shared by the hierarchy as a whole and by the élites that influence public opinion the most.

Luke from Star Wars once said, "I, I don't believe it!" His master Yoda replied in a dark, disappointed way, "That is why you fail."

[Giorgio] Bouchard writes: “The Pentecostals, and with them other evangelicals, are absolutely the religious movement spreading most rapidly throughout the world: more than the historical Protestant and Catholic Churches, more than the Muslims who also find themselves in a phase of vigorous expansion. [...] In an age infested by the worst kind of moral relativism and by a suffocating materialism, the Pentecostals represent a new and legitimate interpretation of Christian piety, founded on a great certainty: the presence of the Spirit, the greatly overlooked third person of the Trinity.”

Yes yes yes! Tell it like it is! Bouchard is quoted further:

Why is it that lung cancer is almost completely nonexistent among them, and AIDS almost unknown? Why is it that their young people abstain from drugs and alcohol? It could be that these same much-despised fundamentalists constitute the last manifestation of the puritan spirit that has had such a great importance in the history of modern democracy.”

Magister then goes on to look at the survey data. The Pentecostals and Charismatics go to church more, read the Bible more often, etc. The full Pew report can be found here.

People want the Bible, they want requirements, they want to know Jesus and serve God. They are like children who need rules and boundaries. I just don't understand why it's so hard to cater to these needs, since they're so fundamentally Christian. I am not a big believer in 'speaking in tongues' and the like. The Catholic Church has its own popular pieties and traditions to attract the masses and show them the way. They must be popularized and promoted once more! We'll see if the Latin American hierarchies can figure it out before it's too late.

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