Thursday, July 25, 2013

What Catholic Church will the Pope find in Brazil?

By Fr. José Oscar Beozzo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (in Portuguese)

Pope Francis added  a personal pilgrimage to the Shrine of Aparecida to Benedict XVI's earlier program for WYD. There, in May 2007, he had participated in the 5th General Conference of CELAM and coordinated the drafting of the Aparecida Document.

He will go as a pilgrim to find an old but very alive expression of Brazilian Catholicism, because Aparecida attracts more than 10 million pilgrims each year. It is a Catholicism that is rooted in the past, with its shrines planted on the shores of two rivers -- old colonial paths -- or along the sea, through which the sugar from the mills flowed.

There is an invisible thread that binds Bom Jesus de Pirapora on the Tietê River, to Bom Jesus da Lapa, on the shore of the São Francisco River and that reaches the sanctuary of São Francisco das Chagas de Canindé in Ceara, and even Bom Jesus de Matosinhos in Minas Gerais, and the Cathedral of Bom Jesus de Cuiabá, in distant Mato Grosso. This is the same Catholicism that Fafá de Belém will evoke, when bringing to the Pope the echoes of the great procession of the Cirio de Nazaré. It will be the Virgin of the indigenous world of the Amazon basin starring opposite the Black Virgin of coffee farms touched by slave labor in Sao Paulo and Rio's Vale do Paraíba, or Nossa Senhora da Penha in Victoria or Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, in Salvador. Every December 8th, the procession of holy daughters leaves from there, with their pitchers of perfumed water to wash the steps of Bonfim Church.

This traditional Catholicism gains a militant and liberating face through the many Pilgrimages of the Land and of Water promoted by the CPT ("Comissão Pastoral da Terra" -- Pastoral Land Commission) and through the 13th Interecclesial Meeting of the CEBs (base Christian communities) that will occur next January in Padre Cícero's Juazeiro, on the theme "Justice and Prophecy at the Service of Life" and with the motto "CEBs, pilgrims of the Kingdom in the countryside and the city."

In Rio, the Pope will get in touch with the contrast of a Catholicism that, backed in the 1930s by more than 98% of Brazilians who declared themselves Catholics, dreamed of a new Christendom and erected on top of the Corcovado the Christ the Redeemer statue, which was to reign over the city and country. Today Rio is the state capital with the lowest percentage of Catholics and the highest percentage of those who claim "no religion." On its periphery, Catholics have become a minority as opposed to the faithful of the Baptist churches and the many Pentecostal churches. Strolling to look around the slums on the hills of Rio and during his visit to the Varginha community, in the Manguinhos complex, the Pope will come in contact with a strip of Brazil with over 100 million people of African descent, but will have at his side during the Masses mostly bishops and priests of white European origin, with little black presence.

During WYD, the 2 million young people who will be with the Pope will be accompanied live by a wide audience in Brazil and around the world. Here lies another face of the Church, that of a mediagenic Catholicism whose most visible countenance is the singing priests and Catholic TV networks -- Rede Vida, Canção Nova, TV Aparecida, TV Século XXI, with strong ties to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. These networks are, however, a pale presence against the media power of IURD, with Rede Record de Televisão, or the endless hours allocated on other TV channels to the various Pentecostal churches.

For the Catholic Church, there are many challenges today: How do we go from an only nominal and traditional Catholicism to a Catholicism of choice and faith in action? How do we make the transition from a rural Catholicism to living it out in the context of an urban, technical, scientific and media-centered culture? How do we implement a community-oriented Church in a society of extreme individualism and competition? How do we live modestly and frugally, attentive to the environmental crisis, against the grain of inordinate and unbridled consumerism? How do we act in solidarity with the poor, commit ourselves to the struggle for justice and to overcome inequalities, racial discrimination and violence, in a courageous civic manner in the social and political sphere, at a time when the trend towards disembodied spiritualism is growing?

How do we talk to young people after the bond of faith transmission within families has been broken, but also when a renewed longing for justice, peace and care for creation is emerging? How do we deepen the reflection on the meaning of human sexuality, love, pleasure, while listening and practicing mercy in the face of the suffering and perplexities in this field? How do we respond to the cry of women, whose emancipation and aspiration to equal dignity in all spheres of life is not sufficiently accepted in the structures of the Church? Finally, how do we move in the spaces of increasing religious pluralism in Brazilian society, learning to dialogue and cooperate ecumenically for the common good with all people in the various denominations, religions and philosophies of life?

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