by Rafael Tavares, ACN Brazil
Adapted by ACN Canada
Analysing the reality of Catholicism in Brazil is not an easy task. The country has the third largest episcopate in the world and globally it is the nation with the most Catholics. However, the profile of Brazilian Catholics is now extraordinarily varied. For some the panorama of the Catholic Church is limited at present to the problem of the growing influence of the protestant churches and the five percentage point decline in the number of Catholics. For others the growing number of agnostics, particularly among young people, is what the Brazilian Bishops and pastoral workers should focus their attention and action on. If, on top of this, one considers the challenges, such as the complex reality of religious syncretism and vast areas where the Gospel has yet to be preached, it is evident that the Church in Brazil has reached a critical point in its history. And yet there are more reasons to hold out hope for the future rather than accept the dismal panorama certain media wish to project.
The first reason has to do with the internal life of the parishes and the Church movements and associations in Brazil, which are experiencing unprecedented growth – in numbers, events and the involvement of particularly young believers. The movements which have emerged from the Charismatic Renewal are a good example of this.
The annual census for 2010 conducted by the Centre for Statistics and Social Research (CERIS) – an institute set up by the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference (CNBB) to investigate religious life – revealed a “living Church”. This is also underscored by the sociological study of the numerical development in the Church’s presence in Brazil drawn up by the priest and sociologist Father José Carlos Pereira. According to Father Pereira the figures indicate a rise in the number of parishes and the creation of new dioceses, which reveals a steadily growing Church: “The theoreticians of secularisation say that religion is doomed to failure. But we see the opposite. To the extent that the necessity arises to create new parishes and to divide them up into areas, thus extending their range, the results show a greater religious bond, even among people who are remote from religion.”
A continually growing Church
An overview highlights the vitality of the Catholic religion, expressed in a wave of new ways of living the Catholic faith: new communities and Church movements which return to the original spirit of the first Christian communities. A further statistical fact that contrasts with the view of a Church in “crisis” is the rise in the number of priests between 1970 and 2010 according to the latest CERIS studies. “In the year 2000 there were 16,772 priests. In 2010 there were 22,119. With regard to the distribution of priests over the whole population: in the year 2000 Brazil had a good 169 million inhabitants, in other words 10,123.97 for every priest. Ten years later the country had a population of about 190 million. That means for every priest 8,624.97 inhabitants,” according to the figures provided by CERIS.
The considerable progress in Catholic media presence has drawn admiration across the globe. With four major television stations currently on air – and others being set up -, with hundreds of radio stations, internet portals and Catholic news agencies in the worldwide network, the Church in Brazil has more and better means to tackle its current challenges. Through these communication channels it proclaims to hundreds of thousands of people the richness of the Catholic faith. It should also be stressed that in Brazil Catholic stations are already broadcasting in high definition, using state-of-the-art technology.
WYD = Growing number of vocations to the priesthood
Finally mention should be made of the Pope’s visit to the World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. The heritage of the WYD, the global meeting between young people and the Holy Father, can be seen in the growing number of those following the call to join the priesthood and religious orders. With every event the evangelising zeal of the young people also grows. These gatherings, which take place every two or three years in a city chosen by the Pope, are the result of an initiative by the Blessed John Paul II. His successor, Benedict XVI, continued them with great apostolic success. The figure of the Pope draws thousands of young people seeking a firm answer to the big questions in their lives. An answer expressed in a language they understand and can pass on. The born teacher Benedict XVI left a series of answers to these questions, as well as attendance figures which impress those in particular who did not expect the German Pope to have the same apostolic success with young people as his predecessor. Now Brazilian youth is awaiting the new Pope Francis at the WYD in Rio.
In Benedict XVI’s pontificate of almost eight years, one of his major initiatives intended to facilitate the transmission of fundamental matters of faith to young people was the publication of a catechism addressed specifically to them, the YouCat. At WYD Rio 2013 Aid to the Church in Need has taken the initiative in presenting 500,000 copies of this booklet to various Brazilian dioceses. It is thus enabling many young people who may not have much money to buy a copy and to gain access to the text which Benedict XVI commissioned and to which he has written a preface.
“This is the Youth of the Pope,” the young people cried out in Madrid at the final event of the World Youth Day 2011. The Church in Brazil has high expectations and many reasons to hope that young Brazilians, who are the present and the future of the Church, will be motivated in their zeal to be “disciples and missionaries”, so that they may pass on the treasure of faith to coming generations. The reception of the WYD Cross and Icon of the Virgin Mary by hundreds of thousands of young Brazilians, the anticipation and preparation of those taking part and of the volunteers, as well as the success of the different preparatory meetings for the main meeting with the Pope in the “marvellous city” are concrete signs that Brazilian youth also wishes to be the Youth of the Pope, that the Church in Brazil is growing and that it will continue to receive more and more daughters and sons of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s Patron Saint.