BENEDICT AND LATIN AMERICA: 2 VIEWSBoth articles were originally posted in NEWS ABOUT BENEDICT on different days, but I am posting them together here as a convenient reference and primer of sorts for the Pope's visit which starts next week.
McCarrick: Pope will be a hit in Brazil
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Posted on Apr 23, 2007
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a fluent Spanish speaker with deep ties to the church in Latin America, believes that Pope Benedict XVI will be a hit during his May 9-13 visit to Brazil for the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The Latins will be overwhelmed by the humility and the graciousness of the man,” McCarrick said in an April 21 interview at the North American College in Rome. “They’ll be so enamored that they’ll listen to him … at least that’s my dream.”
McCarrick predicted that the humility of Benedict will stand in stark contrast to the swagger and braggadocio that Latin Americans often associate with their political and economic leadership.
McCarrick, who stepped down as the cardinal of Washington, D.C. in May 2006, also predicted that Latin Americans will discover a pope who knows more about their local situation than they might expect from this quintessentially European figure.
“They will find he understands them better than they think he does,” McCarrick said. “They will be surprised by how well he understands them.”
McCarrick said that Benedict’s experience of meeting with bishops and other Catholics from Latin America for almost a quarter-century as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, along with his capacity for reading and absorbing material from different cultures in their original languages, will serve him well.
“He’s studied the world very carefully for the last 25 years,” McCarrick said, “and he comes to his role with great preparation.”
McCarrick said he believes Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est
, embodies the right approach to reach Latin Americans.
“This is the land of the abrazo
[embrace],” McCarrick said. “You have to talk to the heart, not just the head.” In that regard, he said, the pope’s discussion of human love in the encyclical expresses “the essence of Christianity.”
“More than any other place, Deus Caritas Est
is made for Latin America,” McCarrick said.
McCarrick called Benedict’s decision to attend the meeting of bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean a “great grace” and a sign of “his love and pastoral care for the church in the part of the world.”
At the same time, McCarrick said that the task in front of the pope in Brazil is “not easy.”
The occasion for the trip is the fifth General Conference of CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Conference, which brings together all the bishops of the region. McCarrick described this meeting as a critical crossroads for the body.
“What’s at stake is the future of CELAM as an instrument of growth and development of the church in Latin America,” he said, explaining that after the turbulence of the last thirty years, related in part to battles over liberation theology, CELAM now “has to confront a new series of challenges.”
First, McCarrick said, the bishops of the region find themselves for the first time facing a “growing secularism,” a new phenomenon in a continent which for centuries has been overwhelmingly Catholic, and which in recent decades has witnessed explosive growth in Pentecostal and Evangelical bodies.
“For the first time, some in Latin America are turning away from religion altogether, which is new,” McCarrick said, adding that he had in mind particularly legislative trends in some Latin American nations.
In part, McCarrick was referring to recent moves in Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador and Chile to loosen some restrictions on abortion. A similar debate is unfolding in Brazil, where Benedict XVI will visit.
Second, McCarrick cited as a challenge to CELAM the rise of what he called “new dictatorships” in Latin America, this time from the political left. He said he had in mind Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and other new Latin American rulers with ties to Chavez.
“In each case, these governments affect the church, which we see especially clearly in Venezuela,” McCarrick said. “How is CELAM going to deal with that?”
McCarrick said that in forging pastoral strategies, it’s important for CELAM to move beyond what he described as adversarial dynamics with Rome which critics saw in some forms of liberation theology.
“Without fidelity to the See of Peter, CELAM cannot do what it is capable of doing,” he said.
McCarrick described himself as a “supporter” of CELAM, against critics who argue that such a large regional body tends to swamp the contributions of individual bishops and national bishops’ conferences. But in order to strengthen CELAM, McCarrick said, the Latin American bishops need to accent their relationship with Rome.
“In many cases there have been misunderstandings, probably on both sides,” McCarrick said. “It’s important that we all speak with one voice, though not in the same language. What we need is one voice in many languages.”
Losses of Catholic population to Pentecostal movements, coupled with a severe priest shortage, have led some Latin American bishops and church leaders to call for greater lay empowerment. McCarrick said he concurs, but that proper formation of the laity is important.
“There has to be more lay involvement, which is fulfilling the desire of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “The gospel isn’t written just for the priests, but for everybody.”
Yet, McCarrick acknowledged, “this is always a debatable thing in Latin America because of its past history,” referring to struggles over the lay role as understood by liberation theology, especially its advocacy of “base communities” – small groups of Catholics who meet for Bible study, prayer, and social action. Critics sometimes charged that the base communities were seen by liberation theologians as the nucleus of a “church from below,” set in opposition to the hierarchy.
“These groups did not always have the direction, leadership and formation they needed,” McCarrick said. “Formation has to be one of the great goals” of any move to promote lay involvement in the pastoral mission of the church, he said.
As a Catholic in the United States, McCarrick said, he feels a direct stake in the vicissitudes of the church in Latin America.
“We’d be foolish to think otherwise, just as the United States is politically foolish is we don’t work continually on our relations with Latin America,” he said. “Latin America should be our first neighbor. It’s right next door. On issues such as migration and cooperative economic development, we have huge shared interests.”
“As Catholics, we have to look to the local churches in Latin America, because we face much the same issues,” he said.
As for what he expects from the CELAM meeting, McCarrick cited a line from the text of the Mass for Sunday, April 22, which addresses a plea to God for “renewed youthfulness.”
“That’s what I pray will come,” he said.
CHALLENGING BENEDICT ON LATIN AMERICA
I am very surprised by this article which is almost the polar opposite of Cardinal McCarrick's assessment above.
When Magister says that the Pope has only made two public statements about Latin America so far, he simply ignores all the speeches the Pope makes whenever he receives the credentials of new ambassadors to the Holy See from a Latin American country (at least 10, because I can recall translating that many from Spanish) - at which the Pope also zeroes in on the specific social problems of the country he is addressing.
And as for his assertion in the 'summary' statement after the headline that the '500 million Catholics of Latin America feel the Pope has until now ignored them', what gives him or any journalist the license to make such a sweeping statement? Can he cite a single poll taken in any Latin American country, let alone all of Latin America, in which the question as specifically asked, "Do you think the Pope (or the Church) has paid enough attention to you, or do you think he (or the Church) has ignored you?"
No journalist can simply state an unfounded 'conclusion' involving 500 million people to advance a personal premise which may be wrong, to begin with. And does anyone really seriously think anyway, that Latin American Catholics, when considering their personal and national problems, would think that one of the reasons is "The Pope is ignoring us"?
It is sad when a usually responsible and sensible journalist like Magister falls prey himself to common journalistic sins.
Benedict XVI's First Visit to Latin America
Many are waiting for the pope finally to speak to the five hundred million Catholics on the continent,
who until now have felt that he has ignored them.
In Aparecida, the possible beginning of the pontificate's second phase
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, April 26, 2007 – It is autumn in Sao Paolo and at the shrine of the Aparecida in Brazil, on the Tropic of Capricorn, and the temperatures are mild. But his upcoming visit to that land, from May 9-14, will be a trial by fire for Benedict XVI.
In the two years of his pontificate, neither Brazil nor Latin America has ever appeared at the center of his attention, in spite of the fact that five hundred million Catholics live there – almost half of the one billion, one hundred million Catholics worldwide.
Joseph Ratzinger displayed flashes of passion for this continent in the first months after his election as pope.
He was the one who chose, for July 7, 2005, the theme of the fifth general conference of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean: “Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ.” It is the fifth after the meetings in Rio de Janeiro in 1995, in Medellín in 1968, in Puebla in 1979, and in Santo Domingo in 1992.
It was he who wanted that the other phrase of the title – “That all may have life” – should end by specifying: “in Him.” And that the statement of Jesus himself should be added: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
He was the one who established the date and the place. In October of 2005, during the synod of bishops, meeting with some of the South American cardinals he asked them point blank what was the most frequented Marian shrine in Brazil. “Aparecida,” they answered him. And the pope: “That’s where you will meet. In May of 2007. And I’ll be there.”
But he then completely delegated the preparatory phase to others: in the curia to cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the congregation for the bishops and president of the pontifical commission for Latin America, and across the Atlantic to cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, archbishop of Santiago, Chile, and the current president of CELAM, the Latin American episcopal council.
Cardinal Re has been for years the chief architect of the appointment of new bishops in Latin America, with this pope and the previous one. So it is due in large part to him if the Latin American episcopate is so sorely lacking today in outstanding figures and reliable, visionary guides.
The exceptions are rare. Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is one of these: but since the beginning of preparations for the conference in Aparecida, he has kept his distance and has put up insurmountable opposition to Benedict XVI’s own request that he move to Rome to become head of a curia dicastery.
Last October, the pope brought to the Vatican the archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, cardinal Cláudio Hummes, as prefect of the congregation for the clergy. But this has had no visible effect so far.
Hummes knows from direct experience that the clergy is one of the critical points for the Church on that continent. Except in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina, there are very few native priests – one for every fifteen thousand baptized persons – ten times fewer than in Europe or North America.
Apart from being very few in number, the priests are poorly educated. Concubinage is a common practice in the rural areas and in the Andes. In many churches and parishes, the Sunday Mass is celebrated rarely, and typically in a haphazard manner: this explains the low rates of regular participation at Mass on the continent, even though it is so thoroughly Catholic.
The seminaries are also very uneven in quality. In the places where vocations to the priesthood are on the rise – in some of the more vibrant dioceses, in some of the Charismatic communities – the greatest difficulty for the bishop or head of a community is that of finding a trustworthy seminary.
All of this is very well known, but in the preparatory documents for the conference in Aparecida, and even in the draft of the lengthy concluding document, already in secret circulation in the Vatican offices, there is only the faintest trace of these issues
On January 20 of this year, and then on February 17, Benedict XVI gave the only two speeches that he has dedicated to the topic so far: the first was addressed to the members of the pontifical council for Latin America, and the second to the nuncios of that continent. Both were routine speeches, produced in the offices of cardinal Re, without any passages displaying the pope’s own hand and mind, which are very recognizable in his own personal writing.
Just as routine was the appointment of the 266 participants for the conference in Aparecida, including member bishops, guests, observers, and experts. Of the sixteen that were to be chosen by Benedict XVI, eleven were obligatory insofar as they are the heads of offices in the curia.
The only one who stands out among the remaining five is cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Québec, who despite being Canadian is much more competent in this area than many of his Latin American colleagues.
But there are very strong reasons why the Aparecida conference should enter into history, just as did – for other reasons – two of the continental meetings that preceded it: the one in Medellín, Colombia in 1968, and the one in Puebla, Mexico in 1979.
The address that John Paul II delivered in Puebla had a strong impact, inaugurating the decade-long battle that Rome would fight and win, with the unyielding support of then-cardinal Ratzinger, against the Marxist utopianism disguised as liberation theology.
But a great deal has changed since then. When Karol Wojtyla set foot in Mexico in 1979, and in Brazil the following year, there were reactionary and even bloody regimes in various countries on the continent. Today, the Church faces the opposite challenge – and in certain ways a more arduous one.
Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina are headed by the progressive parties of Lula, Michelle Bachelet, Vázquez, and Kirchner, the bearers of a secularist view similar to the one in the northern regions of the world.
Meanwhile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua are dominated by the populism of Chávez, Morales, Correa, and Ortega. The Marxism dear to liberation theology is holding out only in Cuba. The religion of the new regimes is, if anything, that of nativism, and the myths of pre-Christian America.
But equally drastic changes have taken place on the religious terrain. In 1980, when John Paul II went to Brazil for the first time, Catholics had a near monopoly with 89 percent of the population. In the 2000 census, they had fallen to 74 percent, and today in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and the urban areas, they are under 60 percent.
At the same time, there has been a rise in the number of people with no religion at all – from 1.6 percent in 1980 to 7.4 percent in 2000 – but above all in the number of Pentacostalist Protestants. These latter have gone from 5 percent in 1980 to 15 percent, and above 20 percent in the urban areas.
But there’s more: the spirit of Pentacostalism is also drawing a growing number of followers among Catholics who are remaining members of their Church. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, in a detailed survey conducted in 2006, found that this tendency can be ascribed to one out of every three Catholics in Brazil.
This tendency to a large extent opposes the pressure of secularization and aligns itself with a form of Christianity that is puritanical, communitarian, taking its inspiration from above; a defender of life and the family, active on the public stage, and displaying a strong missionary spirit.
In Santo Domingo in 1992, John Paul II branded the Pentecostal Protestant communities as “ravenous wolves,” and in effect they are often aggressively hostile toward the symbols of Catholicism, from the Virgin Mary to the pope.
Ratzinger himself, in a conference on May 13, 2004, accused the United States of promoting “the protestantization of Latin America and the dissolution of the Catholic Church.”
But as pope, last February 17, he instead called upon the Church to examine itself.
If so many faithful are abandoning this and going to the Pentecostal communities – a phenomenon also found on a wide scale in Africa, Asia, and North America – it is because they are thirsty for a living, real Jesus whom the Church proclaims too feebly. Such as the humanized and politicized Jesus in the books by Jon Sobrino, the liberation theologian condemned last winter by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
For Benedict XVI, Jesus is decidedly the central issue, including for Latin America. Who knows how, in Sao Paolo and Aparecida, he will finally be able to speak to the continent, and to touch its heart?
If, in the 20-year period spanned by these statistics, the situation for Catholicism in Latin America grew worse - despite 3 Papal visits to Mexico, 2 visits to Brazil, and at least one each to almost all the other countries of Latin America, by the Pope who has been the most 'ad extra' in modern history - why is Benedict being judged now - after two years in office - for something that, clearly, not the Pope, nor any single institution, is capable of solving overnight?
In 1980, when John Paul II went to Brazil for the first time, Catholics had a near monopoly with 89 percent of the population. In the 2000 census, they had fallen to 74 percent, and today in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and the urban areas, they are under 60 percent.
The problem of Latin American Catholicism is obviously not a simple one - and how can the bishops of Latin America be unaware of it? At the root was the superficial Christianization of the continent, which absorbed traditional Catholic practices into its culture far better than it did Christian doctrine itself.
That is why the Catholic mission there, as it is in the rest of the world, is 're-evangelization". Which is what Benedict is doing daily in trying to re-introduce the Christians of the world to Christ and to Christianity. That is where re-evangelization begins.
But you don't re-introduce Christ and Christianity in the misguided way the liberation theologians are doing - by making him out to be nothing more than a social activist and ignoring, neglecting or even questioning his divinity. That is not simplifying Christ - that is falsifying him.
Through the centuries, hundreds of millions of simple folk cumulatively came to accept Christianity as it was taught to them, simply. As the Apostles did, simply. Christ is the Son of God, He is God's gift for the salvation for all men, and the Christian way of life is to love God, and love all men as one loves oneself. Benedict is settng an example for all Catholic priests on how to convey the message of Christ. Surely in time, it will have an effect.
The Protestant evangelists in Latin America have simplified their message too, not denying Christ's divinity, to begin with, but in ways that, as sociologists and historians and other scholars have studied, are able to get their message through somehow far more effectively and efficiently than the Roman Catholic Church. How lasting these 'conversions' will be, no one can tell yet.
If the Latin American bishops have not included this problem in their working agenda - which I find hard to believe - then that is most distressing indeed. But surely it is something the Pope would know about right away. And those bishops have three weeks after the Pope opens the conference to get their agenda straight!