The news story coming out of Brazil over the past two days:
The Catholic Church has stopped hemmorhaging members over the past three years. A government survey in 2003 showed that 73.9% of the population claimed to be Catholic after a 20 year free fall from 89% in 1980. Three years later, 73.8% responded that they were Catholic. Protestants inched up to 17.9%.
As Time magazine puts it:
". . .two factors behind the slowdown: The stabilization of Brazil's economy after decades of boom and bust; and the adoption by local Catholic diocese of some of the methods that brought success to the Protestant denominations.
Protestantism, says Neri, takes root quickest in impoverished urban areas where the state is absent. But significant income gains among the poorest sectors of society, combined with a far-reaching government assistance program, have given hope to people who once turned to Protestant Pentecostalism for financial and social aid.
After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant.
The best example of the trend is Father Marcelo Rossi, a charismatic and media-savvy priest who has sold millions of CDs featuring songs like "Clapping for Jesus," "Raise Your Hands" and the "Jesus Twist." Rossi has a daily radio show, two weekly TV shows and a busy web portal, and he hosts regular concerts-cum-shows at which thousands of young fans dance to his catchy gospel pop. He once attracted 2.4 million fans to an appearance in Sao Paulo, and his draw is such that he has been invited to give a live performance immediately after Benedict XVI says mass in Sao Paulo on May 11."
Sherry's note: My friends know that I simply loathe the easy dismissal of evangelical worship as "entertainment" and "happy clappy" by conservative Catholics. When we do that, we are taking the easy way out. We don't have to ask "why" because we can just dismiss the millions of Catholics drawn to these services as spiritual and aesthetic morons. And, of course, preen ourselves on our spiritual discernment.
But "Clapping for Jesus???" "Jesus Twist??????" Yeeeew. I can live in the faint hope that's just a bad translation.
But the fact that he was asked to perform for the Pope is significant. Why was Fr. Rossi chosen? While I am sure that his performance for Pope Benedict will be subdued, it certainly won't be Mozart. I wonder if it will be broadcast?
"Even in Guatemala, Latin America's most Protestant nation, there are signs that the more charismatic approach of the Catholic Church can reverse the trend. The number of Guatemalan Protestants stopped growing at the start of the decade and now numbers between 33% and 40%, according to Dr. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Interim Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Texas. Every nation in this once homogenously Catholic continent has a bedrock of Catholic support that will never be eroded, and the numbers presented in Brazil last week may be a sign that those willing to choose an alternative have already done so. "It doesn't surprise me," Garrard-Burnett said of the study's findings. "You just see Protestant growth plateau and I think that may be true in Brazil."
Very interesting. Because at one time, Guatemala was expected to become the first majority Protestant nation in Latin America. Although a 40% minority is, admittedly, a really big minority, a minority with clout.
Are we settling down into a pluralistic but more stable religious environment? Or, as happened in Europe in the late 16th century, can a new, passionate, and more intentionally "evangelical" Catholicism regain some of the ground it has lost? A Catholicism that no longer takes its hegemony for granted but knows that even for Latin Catholics, the gospel must be proclaimed afresh to every person in every generation.
That it is true that even for Latin Catholics: "God has no grand-children".