Brazil Readies for Pope Whose Mission Is Change Visit Aims to Curtail Liberation Theology, Growth of Evangelicals

Article excerpt

POPE John Paul II arrives Saturday in Brazil for a 10-day visit with the world's largest Roman Catholic populace. The Pope himself initiated this visit with the intent of making a significant impact on Brazilian Catholics, church officials say.

As the agent of widespread change in the Brazilian Catholic Church during the last 10 years, the Pope, who will arrive on the feast day of Brazil's patron saint, is expected to push for transformation within the church to surmount challenges that lie ahead.

Those challenges center on how the church can meet the needs of Brazil's growing number of poor, while boosting the church's rate of growth.

On the question of helping the poor, the Pope is seeking a shift in emphasis. During the last two decades, many Catholic clerics here have - contrary to Vatican wishes - adopted "liberation theology," which typically uses Bible teachings as a foundation from which to preach for social and economic change.

Clerics have, for example, organized rural squatter settlements to push land reform and encouraged factory workers to mobilize for better pay and work conditions. Liberation theology also has leftist ties. Some clerics are self-avowed Marxists who campaigned hard for the leftist Workers Party during the last presidential election.

During his visits to 10 Brazilian cities, the Pope is expected to emphasize an orientation that concentrates on an individual's inner needs, say priests and others. His speeches are likely to focus on preaching the gospel and advocating the clerical vocation with the aim of meeting needs as well as bolstering church growth.

"The excessive concentration on liberation theology ... led the church to lose its chance to deal with individuals, with things such as identity crises, psychological depression, family crises, fears, phobias, sin, and guilt complexes," says the Rev. Caio Fabio D'Araujo Filho, a Presbyterian minister and president of the Rio de Janeiro-based Brazilian Evangelical Association, one of Brazil's fastest-growing churches. Evangelical opportunity

Into that gap have moved the Evangelical churches, whose dramatic growth now embraces an estimated 18 percent (about 26 million) of the the country's 140 million people, compared with 7 percent of the population a decade ago. During this period, the Catholic Church was unable to attract adherents fast enough to keep up with population growth. According to the National Bishops Conference, Brazil had one priest per 9,379 inhabitants in 1980, and, 10 years later, one priest for 10,591 inhabitants.

"They left a big space for those who were {addressing individual needs}: the Evangelicals and the Kardec spiritists," Mr. …


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