Helpful Texts

Link zum Mandala von Bruder Klaus
Stephan U. Neumann {*}

The Moved Faith


From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 52/2011, P. 587 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


In Latin America religion is a big market - also with losses of faith.
Much is changing.


A number of bishops from the increasingly de-Christianized Europe regard South America as the promised land of Christianity. According to "Fischer Weltalmanach 2012" the proportion of Catholics in the countries of the subcontinent is between 90 percent (Venezuela and Paraguay) and 74 percent (Brazil). Only Guyana and Suriname are an exception. "In Latin America, I experience repeatedly that the joy in faith is contagious," said the chairman of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who visited Brazil at the opening of this year's "Adveniat" action. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of this Latin America aid agency, he celebrated together with the bishops Odilo Scherer of São Paulo and Franz-Josef Overbeck from Essen, the headquarters of "Adveniat," the liturgy of the first Sunday in Advent on the sports field of the favela Cachoeirinha in the Brazilian twenty-million metropolis.

The people of South America speak quite naturally about their faith, noticed the Archbishop of Freiburg. "We in Germany can learn from the deep faith of Latin America, from the riches of popular piety." Zollitsch compares the, in his opinion, little structured Latin American Church with that of Germany, "We Germans are in danger of thinking first in structures". The base communities, which in the seventies and eighties were created in the spirit of liberation theology, are meanwhile regarded as role models. At that time, however, the Vatican and large parts of the European clergy regarded them as too political, too self-confident towards the powerful in government and church, but above all as too Marxist in their thought.

This change of mind probably results from the much-lamented shortage of priests. For contrary to the assertion that outside of Europe enough young men aspire to the priesthood, the ratio of priests to Catholics is significantly worse in South America than in Europe. The result was and still is, that parishes, divided into several units, with 60.000 or more believers in cities are not uncommon and that the priests who are living in the country visit the village parishes only a few times a year because of the immense distances. Lay people who, under such conditions, self-confidently and independently live their faith, were hitherto also here in this country regarded as too progressive, as "left". However, under the impression of the worsening shortage of priests and believers, also here in Germany the church leadership wants to put a better complexion on the merging of parishes into larger units by making use of the image of the joyful believers, who are happy about the rare visits of the pastor in their small house, village or urban congregation on the spot.


From the Powerful to the Poor

But some people had already asserted that, "the liberation theology had been buried together with the Berlin Wall," as Sergio Silva in the volume "Latin America and the Caribbean" in the series "Church and Catholicism since 1945" (Paderborn 2009) notes. It is admittedly undeniable that the new generation of theologians in Latin America does not succeed in gaining worldwide attention, as for example the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, the bishops Helder Câmara and Pedro Casaldáliga, or the theologians Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino did, who were prohibited from teaching by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, the causes of liberation theology, as e.g. the enormous oppression and exclusion of large parts of the population, which led to the preferential option for the poor and the youth, have by no means disappeared.

According to Sergio Silva, its central theological contribution goes far beyond Latin America: Following the Second Vatican Council's deliberate opening to the world, it has opened to the earthly context, to the existential reality of life. The liberation theology has thus decisively influenced the European "contextual theology".

"The focus changes with the new problems. Today rather the environment, the situation of indigenous peoples, and human rights are of importance," said the Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner and artist Adolfo Perez Esquivel. In Argentina, e.g., a number of bishops, priests and lay people currently side with the marginalized and the poor. In Argentina it was difficult for such awakenings, because for a long time the vast majority of the bishops cultivated good relations with the powerful. Thus, the commitment of priests of the "Movement for the Third World" (founded in 1968) in the slums was often suppressed, due to the prejudice that it was under Marxist influence. "As so often in the history of Argentina, the bishops followed again the armed forces, in order to save the nation and the country out of chaos," said Sergio Silva. When in 1976 General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in a coup, this was "expressly welcomed and supported by leading members of the episcopate." A few bishops only denounced the crimes, as e.g. the disappearance of 30.000 dissidents. Bishop Enrique Ángel Angelelli was even killed for his commitment to prisoners. But the then government and church leadership presented the still not fully solved circumstances of his death as a car accident.

As in no other South American country, in Argentina one has meanwhile reappraised the up to 1983 lasting military dictatorship. Many cases have been and are retried. Military leaders have already been sentenced to life imprisonment. This is the merit of human rights groups, which were also founded by devout Christians. They seek the truth, stand up for justice, and want to rescue the victims from oblivion.


The Tent of the Laity

But also the religious contexts change. "Only five percent of the urban population take regularly part in the sacramental, liturgical life," explained Padre Javier Klajner the situation of his parish, Madre de Dios. In the highly impoverished quarter in the middle of Buenos Aires with approximately 60.000 inhabitants the popular religiosity is still present. At saint's days and festivals of Virgin Mary many people go to churches and processions. But in the cities more and more people bring no longer their children to baptism.



In the upper classes one often hears there, "The children themselves are to decide later." Many middle-class families bring their children to baptism on the occasion of the in Argentina greatly celebrated first birthday. And in the slums, there are more and more reasons not to baptize at all: no money, the parents are not married, etc. But Klajner emphasizes, "Every child has a right to baptism, regardless of moral issues." Morals come after the encounter with Jesus. And grace is already effective in those who asks for a sacrament.

That's why the dedicated priest baptizes every day - just when people find time. "We must go to the people, we depend on them." This also means that the preparations for the First Communion takes two years. On Saturday afternoon the youth catechists gather the children on the playing field of the parish, in order initially to play with them. The parents, meanwhile, eat and drink in the shade of some trees together with some dedicated volunteers. It is important first to build relationships and enable interpersonal encounters, before religious contents are communicated.

These include programs for vulnerable young people who receive in addition to spiritual assistance psychological support and can continue their education in seminars. Drug addicts are accompanied by Ernesto Ismael Cuevas, who has formerly been addict for eighteen years. The cooperation of the parish with government agencies, psychologists and rehab centers is a matter of course.

The parish of San Martín de Porres in the Diocese of Merlo-Moreno in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires must get by completely without priests. "After our pastor had married, we have quite carefully presented our Bishop a plan for the future pastoral work in the altogether fourteen base communities," said Christl Huber. The religious education teacher from Augsburg was surprised when Bishop Fernando Maria Bargalló handed over the leadership of the parish to her and three other lay people. A group of priests from other parishes alternates to celebrate Eucharist in San Martin and to administer the sacraments. Since the central parish church is still missing and only some of the fourteen base community have a room of worship, a tent is set up again and again at various places as room of assembly and celebration.


Priests are not Chess Pieces

"In my diocese, this is not the only parish which is led by lay people," said Bishop Bargalló. Given the declining number of priests and above all of seminarians both in Argentina and Latin America, he sees it as a concept for the future, for which he is also campaigning among his colleagues. "Three bishops said after a visit, 'Would not it be better if we gave all the parishes to the laity?'" Bargalló laughs and also emphasizes that he does not want to oppose priesthood. Quite the contrary, against some tendencies of clericalization and the impression of a power struggle between priests and laity, he proposes the cooperation of the two - in accordance with the Second Vatican Council. Through baptism, everybody participates in Jesus Christ's priesthood, kingship and prophethood. Accordingly, priests and laity in the parishes should shoulder to shoulder build with their gifts a church, which corresponds to the Gospel - a church of open doors, where people celebrate together and live the compassion with others.

But since priests and parishioners learn in a joint process from each other, he refuses to move "his" priests like "chess pieces."For example, next to a parish with three priests there is currently one without an ordained minister. Although it may seem logical at first glance, the bishop is not willing to remove one of the priests from the community. Bargalló disapproves of models, where more and more parishes are merged and a single priest is burdened with the sole responsibility. But he is very open-minded as regards the proposal to change the conditions for access to the priesthood. After all, the mandatory celibacy for secular priests in the Roman-Latin part of the Catholic Church is merely a law. A first step would be the ordination of so-called Viri probati, married men who have proven themselves in their family life and in the parish. "Here I can think of many such people in my diocese," says Bargalló, who concedes that his current openness could only develop with the help of his priests. The assertion that the issue of celibacy is only a special problem of Western Europe is therefore simply not true.

It is the goal of the young adults in the Alliança de Misericordia (community of compassion) to share with the people their fate. At weekends they stay for the night on the street with the homeless in São Paulo and organize prayer meetings and music events in the favelas on the outskirts. This spiritual movement, which was founded sixteen years ago, wants to proclaim the mercy of God among the poorest. In various houses, for example, drug addicts and homeless people are accompanied by celibate brothers and sisters, but also by families on their way out of addiction and away from the street.

Healing services or the so-called cristoteca, a disco event without alcohol until the morning half past five, are highly charismatically oriented. Padre Rogério Valadares, one of the first four priests who come from the "Alliança de Misericordia" does not conceal that the charismatic movement is also a reaction to the all over Latin America, especially Brazil, rapidly growing Evangelical and Pentecostal groups. He sees the main difference in the fact that the Pentecostal and Evangelical groups are rather interested in the conversion of the individual and his/her personal relationship with God, whereas the Catholics emphasize the commitment to the entire society, and to the social problems. "In Brazil religion is a large market that is very much alive, but a lot of money is made with it," the situation is summarized by Clemens Pfaffenhausen of "Adveniat".

The Church appeals to people if she is in motion, if she responds to new challenges with new visions. The aid agency "Adveniat" celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, i.e. half a century of unswerving solidarity Catholics of Germany, with the poorest of the poor, the brothers and sisters in Latin America. Learning from these religiously moved and moving people means, above all, to consider one's own situation, always anew to ask the gospel, and confidently to find the right answers for 'the here and now'.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'