They raise their arms to the sky to enable God to enter their hearts and minds, hopefully changing their lives in a sublime moment. It is just one example of a mass held by Evangelists throughout Latin America. Over the last 20 years Evangelism has been making inroads into the Catholic Church’s traditional power base – pulling in the poor and the disadvantaged.
In Argentina 30% of the population live in poverty; the country’s middle class was virtually wiped out during the crises of 2001 and 2002. Today, Evangelists take the word of God to the slum areas of Buenos Aires. They claim that even if one has lost everything there is someone who will solve all problems including it seems even AIDS.
25% of Argentina’s poor now follow the Evangelical creed and the numbers are growing. Journalist Alejandro Seselovsky does not see it stopping: “We live in a very fast-moving era and there are people who frankly just can’t wait until death to find salvation – they need it now and these churches are keen to sell them that. That’s why they are growing.”
In Brazil it is the same story. The traditionally Roman Catholic worshippers are changing allegiance. The church has lost a quarter of its flock over the last 25 years. The Evangelists fill the vacuum left by the increasingly over-worked and seemingly out of touch traditional church.
The vast country of Brazil has an estimated 150 million Catholics, but its priests are relatively few. On paper, each one has a congregation of over 7,500 believers – to get to see one’s priest is a miracle in itself!
It means that in a country where poverty is the norm but solace and help are rare, the evangelical talk of miracles and spirituality is an attractive message. If the established Catholic church is to regain lost ground it must stress that content is more important than presentation.