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Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Pope and Brazil

In a few days the Pope will be in Brazil, where he will, among other things, canonize the first saint from Brazil - Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão. I saw an interview at the National Catholic Reporter by John Allen with Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha, the only Brazilian born Bishop in the US (Newark), on the Church in Brazil and the Pope's visit and thought I'd post some bits of it below ...


NCR: What is the significance for Brazil of this trip?

Da Cunha: I think it has tremendous significance. First of all, I think people will get to know him better than what they’ve seen and heard through the press. They will see him personally, and the unique personality he brings: his pastoral approach, his simplicity and humility, and his concern for the people and the church. I think people are going to really like him, and it’s going to be a big boost to the church in Brazil. Hopefully, it will revive enthusiasm for evangelization, and bring people back to the church.

Do you expect big crowds?

Yes, definitely. There will be big crowds for his meeting with youth in the stadium in São Paolo, and there will be a huge crowd for the Mass at the Sanctuary of Aparecida which he will celebrate, and for the canonization of Frei Gavao ......

Does it help that the pope is canonizing a Brazilian while he’s there?

Yes, it’s important, because he is the first Brazilian-born saint to be canonized. To do that in Brazil, while he’s there, is another way of saying that Brazil is important. [Note: Benedict XVI will canonize an 18th century Franciscan named Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao, famous for having promoted a paper “pill” with a dedication to the Virgin Mary said to have miraculous properties.]

Is the devotion to Frei Galvao very popular and widespread?

No, it’s not. It’s more localized in São Paolo, until his canonization was declared. In the Northeast of Brazil, Padim Ciço is more popular than Frei Gavao. [Note: “Padim Ciço” is the popular name of Fr. Cícero Romão Batista, a 19th century diocesan priest in the town of Juazeiro, in the countryside of Ceará. Romão worked for the social and spiritual development of the poor, and was suspended from the priesthood as a result of conflicts with the local bishop. He is regarded as capable of working miracles.] Yet he is not a saint. People go to his sanctuary, they pray to him, and he is more popular than Frei Gavao. Frei Gavao is more localized. But since his canonization was made public, he is becoming a national figure, but he hasn’t been one until now ......

Talking to Brazilian bishops and reading documents from the bishops’ conference, it seems that their top concerns could be expressed in terms of “three P’s”: poverty, Pentecostals, and priests (or the lack thereof). Let’s talk first about poverty. Catholics in Brazil are engaged in multiple ways in caring for the poor and seeking justice on their behalf. Is there a contribution the pope can make to that work?

I don’t know. I know it’s a concern of the church, because poverty leads to violence, to drugs, to so many other things. I think that education is the main solution, because it leads to the eradication of poverty, which in turn drives down crime and violence. That’s what the church has been advocating and promoting. But I don’t think the pope can do much about it. There is some improvement in the social conditions of Brazil, including education, slowly. There is economic growth. There are signs of improvement. The last few years, economic growth has been stronger than in many periods in the past. But that growth is not yet filtering down to the poor, it is benefitting primarily the upper layers. I hope that with time, it will reach those with real need. But again, I don’t think the pope can do anything about this ......

The day after Pope Benedict goes back to Rome, a trial will begin of one of the ranchers accused of orchestrating the murder of American missionary Sr. Dorothy Stang, killed two years ago for her defense of the landless poor in the Amazon. She is hardly the only person in Brazil killed for trying to defend the poor. Is the church in Brazil in some ways a church of martyrs?

She is one among many who have suffered. Recently there was a list compiled from the state of Para, which has the largest incidence of this kind of violence. The landowners kill people because they don’t want to give land to the poor. On this list, there were priests and church workers who have been martyred. Chico Mendez is another example. [Note: Mendez was a union organizer and environmental activist assassinated in 1988.] Unfortunately, the justice system in that state is very, very poor. It’s difficult to punish the criminals who commit this kind of violence. There have been many people who gave their lives to defend the landless and the rights of the poor, and Sr. Dorothy is one of them ......

Coming to my second “P,” sociological surveys and press reports suggest a significant defection of Catholics to Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. How widespread is this?

The reports are pretty accurate. There have been significant losses. What officials in Brazil say quite often is that in a practical sense, this is not a ‘loss,’ because most of those people were never practicing Catholics. Now they’re practicing Evangelicals and Pentecostals. In a sense, this might be a good thing, because they’re practicing some religion, whereas they were not doing anything before. Of those who once considered themselves Catholics and are now Pentecostals or Evangelicals, definitely the majority were non-practicing Catholics. They were baptized, but never really received any catechesis, education in the faith, or sacramental preparation.

Why not? As baptized Catholics, why didn’t they ever get those things? On the surface, it seems like a terrible indictment of the church.

First of all, there are many places without any resident priest, so there’s no parish with a formal system of catechesis and education. The priest comes once every two months to celebrate Mass and then goes back. He comes to baptize the babies, and then he goes back. There’s no structure of the church to continue their formation. So it’s connected to your other “P,” the shortage of priests ......

That brings us to the third “P,” meaning the shortage of priests. The official Vatican numbers say that there is one priest in Brazil for every 8,604 Catholics, compared to one for every 1,300 Catholics in the United States. To deliver the kind of meat-and-potatoes pastoral care that we just agreed is the key to understanding why the church is losing people, do you agree that there’s no foreseeable future in which Brazil is going to have enough priests to do that on a routine basis?


So the only way to address this problem is to bring the laity more into the pastoral mission of the church?

Yes, and it’s already happening. In many places and parishes, lay people are filling in for the absence of a priest. Sometimes, they lead a Sunday service when the priest is not there. They lead the Bible study groups, they do the sacramental preparation, and they lead small communities in prayer meetings. What the church needs to do is to offer more training and support to laity so they can fulfill these ministries more effectively. We see what the Evangelicals are doing -- they’re training people to do that work, and they’re good at it.

In the past, ‘lay empowerment’ in Brazil has been associated with the liberation theology movement, with the idea of a ‘church from below’ that some in the hierarchy found threatening. Can laity be brought into the pastoral mission of the church in a way that avoids these problems?

It can, and it needs to be done. When you train people to carry out the mission of the church, you’re not training them to be in opposition to the hierarchy. You’re training them to do this together. We need to do it in a way that they’re actually representing the church in evangelizing and catechizing, and doing the work that we don’t have enough priests and religious to do.

For a long time, the Latin American model has been that if something pastorally needs to be done, it’s the priest who should do it. Laity were largely consumers.

I think that has changed. In Brazil, I can say that I’ve seen that change. More needs to be done, because we haven’t gotten yet to the level we need. Since Vatican II, that change has been a growing process. You see a lot more lay involvement. There are places where a lay person runs the parish, and the priest just comes to celebrate the sacraments once in a while, but a lay person is in charge of the parish.

Does that work?

It works because it’s the only thing they have ......

I’ve named some specific challenges, but now let me turn the tables and ask you to identify the major pastoral issues facing the church in Brazil.

Evangelization and catechesis are so critical, and education so that people can get jobs and address the problems of violence and corruption. The church has to continue to speak out against corruption, in all branches of government -- judiciary, executive, and legislative branches. Political and judicial reform is critical ......



Blogger lahoma stang said...

Pope Benedict XVI is a servant of the Church. He represents the Church and the Life of Jesus. His going to Brazil like Jesus must have love and compassion for the poor. "Blessed are the Poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." After 500 years of Catholicism in Brazil and we end up with the largest gap between the rich and the poor of any country in the world can we not say, the Church needs to be embarrassed with this result and wants to do something about it? Sr. Dorothy Stang was very clear about her love for the poor to the point of laying down her life for them. Yes, she built 36 schools, a cooperative, 2 large Projects of Sustainable Development, Woman of the Year for the State of Para, Human Rights Award from the Brazilian Law Association and was the Spritual Leader in this Amazonian area. This Woman was a very special martyr that was well known to the point that President Lula's cabinet went to her funeral. She was compared to Chico Mendes by President Lula himself. Her 39 years of selfless witness and martyrdom is the truest evangelization. The trials of the Pistoleros, the Go Between and now one of the ranchers has clearly shown the corruption that exists and the male domination.
Dorothy Stang loved Brazil and the people of Brazil. May her martyrdom bring love and compassion to the poor.

David Stang

1:54 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry to say I hadn't heard of Sr. Dorothy before reading this interview, but thanks to your comment, I've looked her up and she sounds like an amazing person. I'm going to do my next blog post tomorrow about her - hope that's ok with you.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Nice post, Crystal.

I am also glad that you called attention to Dorothy Stang. David might be interested and gratified to know that on Don's blog we were talking about who should be included in the Litany of Saints, and Dorothy Stang's name came up.

Here are a few short audio pieces on Liberation Theology from NPR you might be interested in hearing. I hope they play OK on your Mac.

Here is one with John Allen talking about the Jon Sobrino matter and the Pope's upcoming trip to Brazil.

Here is another with ex-Maryknoll Blase Bonpane in 2005. Sadly, Bonpane's prediction seemed not to have come to pass.

Here is one about Brazil, and how LT has been pushed aside in part by how the Charismatic Movement has had to arise in order to combat Pentecostalism.

7:23 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

thanks for all the links - I'll give them a try. One part of that interview that I didn't post mentions the charismatic movement ... Fr. da Cunha said that for all intents and purposes, the Catholic Church in Brazil is now charismatic.

I'm going to post something about Sr. Dorothy ... the trial of one of her murderers is coming up on the 14th.

7:34 PM  

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