Brazil. The Pentecost of Father Marcelo

The face of Catholicism is changing in the most populous country of Latin America. The Charismatics are flourishing by the millions. And they have a star in a priest who fills stadiums by preaching the love of God

by Sandro Magister

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ROME, January 25, 2012 – Brazil, which will be the theater of the next World Youth Day, is the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world, ahead of Mexico, the Philippines, the United States, and Italy.

But while until 1980 nine out of ten Brazilians were Catholic, today the members of the Church of Rome have dropped to two thirds of the population.

Most of the others have gone over to Protestantism. To a Protestantism almost entirely of a Charismatic, Pentecostal type.

Festive celebrations, music, singing, healings, inspirational language: the characteristics of Pentecostalism are close to the populist devotion that liberation theology – in vogue in the Brazilian Catholic Church in the 1970’s and ’80’s – judged negatively, accusing it of ignoring social issues.

Meanwhile, however, within the Catholic Church as well Pentecostalism was spreading with astonishing speed. In an orthodox form, under the name of Renewal in the Spirit. And the hierarchy decided to give it room. Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, one of the most prominent leaders of the Brazilian Catholic Church, from his youthful sympathies toward liberation theology converted to become a fervent supporter of Renewal in the Spirit.

Today, according to the estimates of a reliable scholar, David Barret, Pentecostal Protestants and Charismatic Catholics together add up to eighty million faithful in Brazil, 40 percent of the entire population. Around 35 million of these are estimated to be Catholics.

“The phenomenon of Father Marcelo Rossi,” comments Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist of religion – “is the most stunning example of this Catholic version of Pentecostalism, itself ultimately a form of ‘new evangelization.'”

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