In the words of former President Lula de Silva: “It is possible that God is not Brazilian, but he has, at least, spent quite some time in Brazil.” That about sums up how close to heart religious conviction is for Brazilians.
In no other country are there more Catholics, but Christian ways are changing so much that it’s no coincidence that Pope Francis chose to come here for the first visit abroad of his pontificate.
The Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said: “He will energise the New Evangelisation of the Church.”
The term ‘New Evangelisation’ means looking for new ways to share the faith, notably through the work of missionaries.
When you compare today with Pope John Paul in the 1980s – he was a hit – Catholicism was booming in Brazil, and when he visited, millions turned out to express their Christian devotion.
Then the population was 121 million, and 90 percent Catholic. Just seven percent belonged to other evangelical faiths in 1980. Thirty years later, three times that are non-Catholic – in an even bigger population: 191 million. The Catholic proportion now is down to two thirds.
People saw all the abuses by priests of the Catholic Church – pedophile horrors, cover-ups and corruption – and that turned them away. The Catholic Church also doesn’t have enough priests. Young potentials don’t go into it because it means being celibate, and because the training is long. Meanwhile, other churches have moved well ahead turning out new priests. Many faithful feel Catholicism today isn’t relevant to their daily lives; they find other churches do relate to them.
“I used to go to Catholic Mass on Sunday,” convert Marcio Vinicius Farias said, “but I still felt empty Then one beautiful day I was invited to the Assembly of God church, and then I accepted Jesus, that’s when I came to know Jesus. It totally wiped away the emptiness I felt, that sadness.”
Pope Francis has taken strides to prove that the Catholic Church cares about people’s suffering. He plans to go into two areas of Rio where other churches are doing very well.
A young man who lives in the Varginha neighbourhood and serves as an altar boy, Joao Carlos de Oliveira, said what’s wrong and what he felt Francis will bring: “Unity. People don’t talk to each other here. What’s going to change is that people will be more united.”
Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida said: “The Catholic Church is the strongest church in Brazil, but we have to update the message for the people of the present.”