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Theme: Latin America: ‘Continent of Hope’

March 6, 2007

CWNews: Latin America needs new evangelization, Pope says

The Church in Latin American is in need of a new burst of evangelization, so that the faith “may become the vital sap that forms the identity” of the region’s culture, Pope Benedict XVI said on January 20.

Speaking to the members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who had gathered in Rome for a meeting chaired by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Holy Father observed that Catholicism is facing “enormous challenges: cultural changes generated by social communications media that influence the thoughts and habits of millions of people; migration, that has so many repercussions on family life and on religious practice in new environments; the re-emergence of questions regarding how peoples must approach their historical memories and their democratic future; globalization, secularism, growing poverty and environmental degradation, especially in big cities, as well as violence and drug trafficking.”

While the people of Latin America have always shown a “great thirst for God,” the Pope continued, the growing influence of new sects shows the need for greater spiritual vitality in the Catholic Church. The sects, he added, capitalize on a situation in which “people receive no answers to their deepest aspirations– answers which could be found in a shared life of faith.”

The social problems of many countries in Latin America– including “the widespread phenomena of exploitation and injustice, of corruption and violence”– add to the urgency of a spiritual renewal, the Pope continued. He gave special encouragement to efforts by Church leaders to nourish the strength of families, since “the legacy of faith is safeguarded in the home.”

Pope Benedict concluded his talk with a prayer the that Virgin Mary would help guide the bishops of Latin America as they prepare for the 5th general meeting of the regional bishops’ conference, CELAM. The Holy Father is scheduled to preside at the opening of that meeting, which will be held at the Brazilian Marian shrine of Aparecida in May 2007.

Catholic News Service: Quirky relations: In Latin America, church still influences state

In a speech after his re-election in December, Chavez, who has had a stormy relationship with Venezuela’s bishops, compared his vision of the nation’s future to “the kingdom of Christ,” which he called “the kingdom of love, of peace, of justice, of solidarity … the kingdom of socialism.”

In Nicaragua, the former leader of the Sandinista revolutionary government, Daniel Ortega, was elected president in November and won warm words from Managua Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, although Ortega’s relationship with the church had been stormy in the 1980s. Ortega’s party recently backed strict abortion legislation supported by church leaders.

In Chile, an ecumenical church service marked the inauguration of President Michelle Bachelet, who describes herself as agnostic, while Peruvian President Alan Garcia attended both an inauguration day Mass celebrated by Lima Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne and an evangelical service.

Do these events signal a trend toward greater secularism in what has traditionally been seen as the world’s most Catholic continent?

In 1995, 80 percent of Latin Americans identified themselves as Catholic, but by 2004 that figure had dropped to 71 percent, according to the Chile-based Latinobarometro polling firm. Only 42 percent of Catholics considered themselves practicing, however, compared to more than 74 percent of evangelicals.

“It’s pretty evident that the church is going through a long period of disengagement” compared to the close church-state relationship that existed in colonial times, said Jesuit Father Jeffrey Klaiber, a historian at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima.

Father Klaiber said the strength of the region’s Catholicism has always been somewhat exaggerated. The church was always weaker than it appeared, “even in colonial times, but people didn’t realize it, because of its dependence on the state,” he said. “People were there not so much for the church, but for the devotions.”

Religious devotions such as those to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the Lord of the Miracles in Peru are celebrated by Latin Americans around the world.

In Argentina, where the disengagement of church and state dates back to the 1850s, only 34 percent of people identify themselves as Catholic, according to Latinobarometro. In Chile, which legalized divorce in December 2004 over the protests of the Catholic bishops, the figure is 31 percent.

But while people may be less willing to follow their bishops’ lead on issues such as divorce or birth control, the church still “has the power to call people together in a crisis. And people still look to the church to have a voice” on social justice issues, Father Klaiber said.

Although many of the bishops who spoke out most strongly on those issues in recent decades have retired, the church’s defense of human rights and social justice continues to give it great credibility in the region, according to Dominican Father Edward Cleary, who heads the Latin American studies department at Providence College in Rhode Island.

The commitment to human rights and social justice is evident from a glance at the messages posted in recent years on the Web pages of the region’s conferences of bishops, Father Cleary said.

In pastoral letters, many conferences have called for clean elections, an end to corruption and greater government attention to issues such as health care and education. In countries such as Bolivia, Peru and the Dominican Republic, church leaders have mediated in political crises. And while only 27 percent of Latin Americans say they trust their countries’ legislatures and 36 percent trust the courts, 71 percent trust the church, according to Latinobarometro.

In Central America, “the residual influence of (Archbishop Oscar) Romero and others in El Salvador is still evident,” Father Cleary said. Indeed, Central America has the highest proportion of Catholics — 48 percent — who say they practice their faith, according to Latinobarometro.

Although secularism seems to be creeping into “the Catholic continent,” religion continues to permeate politics.

(…)

With seminary enrollment up, about 175,000 religious and more than 1 million lay catechists, “to me it looks like the church (in Latin America) is doing better than in the United States in terms of work force, confidence and missionary spirit,” Father Cleary said. “How can there be 1.1 million lay catechists if there’s not a commitment?”

CWNews: Church needs pastoral plan for Latin America, Pope tells nuncios

Pope Benedict XVI met on February 17 with the apostolic nuncios serving in Latin American countries, who were gathered in Rome for a special conference arrange in preparation for the 5th general assembly of the Latin American bishops’ conference CELAM.

Pope Benedict told the papal representatives that he appreciated their efforts, recognizing that the work of a papal nuncio in the Western hemisphere involves “frequent travel and, sometimes, social and political tensions.” The work of a nuncio, he said, “is a ministry of ecclesial communion and a service to peace and harmony between peoples.”

Looking forward to the CELAM meeting, the Pope said that he was looking forward to his trip to Brazil in May for the opening session. Recalling that Pope John Paul II had referred to Latin America as “the continent of hope,” he said that the meeting should help to set the agenda for Catholic growth in the region in the early 21st century. The plans developed at the meeting, he added, should capitalize on “the cultural structure that up to now has characterized Latin American identity.”

The Church faces special challenges in Latin America, Pope Benedict went on, because of the need to blend “the ancient and rich sensibility of the indigenous peoples” with the traditions of Christianity and modernity. The Church, he said, should help the Latin nations to develop their own democratic institutions, with a special emphasis on protection of religious freedom.

Catholics must also answer the threats posed by “the proselytism of sects and the growing influence of secularism,” the Pope said. In Latin America as elsewhere, pastors will need to counteract the forces undermining family life, and rally the people in defense of human life and human dignity.

In an apparent reference to the Paraguayan Bishop Fernando Lugo Mendez, who has been suspended from ministry because he has chosen to run for the presidency in his country, Pope Benedict emphasized that political leadership is not the province of the Catholic clergy, but a task “for mature and professionally trained lay people.” “We ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary,” the Pope concluded, “that the fruits … of the forthcoming general assembly of the Latin American episcopate may be of benefit the entire Church.”

See also:
Zenit: Redefining Sects in Latin America
Zenit: Pope lists 7 key challenges in Latin America
Catholic News Service: Pope warns that family in Latin America is showing signs of erosion

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