Mass Appeal in Brazil

Article excerpt

At first glimpse, Marcelo Rossi is a textbook example of the pastor as showman. A handsome, stylish man in his early forties, he leads a flourishing Sao Paulo congregation legendary for its music. He dances during worship, performing "the Lord's aerobics." And people respond. One of his stadium revivals attracted 70,000 believers. He reaches out to the world through his best-selling music recordings and through television and radio shows, and he has acted in feature films. He epitomizes the kind of rock-star televangelist that has emerged around the globe in recent years.

In fact, he is something rather different: he is a Catholic priest and a key figure in the Catholic charismatic revival. His ecclesiastical superiors raise surprisingly few objections to his running what looks like a Pentecostal megachurch. And he is not the only example of his kind. In Brazil, men like Father Rossi are in the front line of a denominational war that will have enormous consequences for the fate of Christianity worldwide. The core question is: Can the Catholic Church save its historic role as the dominant religious institution in Latin America?

A huge country, not much smaller in area than the U.S., Brazil does everything on a mega scale. According to Vatican statistics, it is the country with the largest Catholic population-Catholics make up 85 percent of Brazil's 190 million people.

But these days Brazil supplies some other statistics that suggest a rather different picture of faith. Every June, for instance, Sao Paulo is the setting for a March for Jesus, which attracts 2 or 3 million Protestants. Brazil's Protestant population has surged in recent years, growing from perhaps 1 or 2 percent in the 1960s to at least 15 percent today, and there is no end in sight to the boom. Nobody scoffs at predictions that by 2050 Brazil will have a Protestant majority.

Protestantism in Brazil is dominated by Pentecostal churches, which focus on promises of healing, miracle and transformation.

In sociological terms, Pentecostals offer the attractions of a classic sect. They demand high involvement and participation by members, who in return receive significant rewards of emotional satisfaction and intimate fellowship. Believers join a tight-knit new family, in which members strive to help each other con front and overcome the multiple deprivations. …