Pope visits waning Latin American flock
Pope Benedict XVI will confront a decline in influence as he arrives in Brazil Wednesday.
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The president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, shot back on TV: "We cannot agree with the use of the condom," he said.Skip to next paragraph
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Manuel Vasquez, an expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville, says that Pope Benedict XVI can regenerate a region that the church feels has lost its moral compass. One of the pope's few side visits includes a trip to a drug rehabilitation center, where he says he will address the anomic behavior of today's society. "They see part of the crisis of Latin American society as the breakdown of the family," he says. "The pope comes in with a message of moral regeneration with the centerpiece [being] the role of the Catholic family."
But the tide, at least on social issues, might be hard to control – and not just in Brazil. Colombia recently relaxed its abortion laws. Mexico City's legislature recently approved on-demand abortions in the first trimester – which was a contentious battle prompting the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico to warn legislators that if they voted to legalize abortion they would be excommunicated upon the first procedure under law. Mexico City also began performing same-sex unions this year, in the footsteps of Coahuila, a state in the north.
"There is increasing concern in the Latin American church with the spread of progressive secular values, on issues like abortion and homosexuality," says Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington.
At the same time there is concern by the laity that their battles will be silenced by a pope many view as too conservative. Dulcelina Vasconcelos, a project coordinator at Catholics for The Right to Decide in São Paulo, says her organization is planning to hold up banners in favor of reproductive rights across the country on Thursday to send the pope a message.
"This pope is worried about the advances we've made as a society," she says.
Ms. Vasconcelos is part of Latin America's liberation theology movement, which rose to prominence in the 1980s as church leaders advocated a more direct role in addressing the needs of the poor. The movement was particularly strong in Brazil, and one of its harshest critics was then Cardinal Ratzinger, the current pope. To the backdrop of the rise of left-leaning governments throughout Latin America today, some wonder how the movement, while not as publicly active as before, will fare.
"It is commonplace to say liberation theology is dead, but it's not true," says Ms. Stewart-Gambino, of LeHigh. "And this is a pope who was the hatchet man for liberation theology."
Obstacles for pope's visit
Even for those who agree with the Church on its moral stances, the pope faces other obstacles. Fabricio Vicente dos Santos is a young pharmacist in São Paulo who agrees with the Catholic Church's stances on homosexuality and abortion but converted to Pentecostalism two years ago. "He is coming here because they are losing so many people," he says, "but it is not going to work."
Even strict Catholic adherents were devastated that the new pope did not hail from their region – since Latin Americans make up half the world's church membership.
And while Pope Benedict XVI shares conservative moorings with his predecessor, he lacks his easy charm, many say. Where Pope John Paul II would go to the smallest towns to hold the smallest babies in countries he visited, Pope Benedict XVI will not veer from the wealthy state of São Paulo.
He is a theologian, an academic, a believer in hierarchy, analysts say. In composure, he could not differ more from the Latin America he will visit. Cecilia Mariz, a religious scholar at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, says she remembers the first visit of Pope John Paul II in 1980. Everyone was talking about it, she says. "This time the pope is not traveling through the country, he doesn't have the charisma of the previous pope, and the country is less Catholic, too. It just doesn't have the same appeal," Ms. Mariz says.
But it is still a historic moment for the country. Tanus Saab, whose family owns Keka Flowers and is decorating São Bento for the pope's visit, holds a bright pink Heliconia in his arm. They are using more than 3,000 tropical flowers including 150 orchids to adorn entranceways, the pope's room in the São Bento monastery, and the church. A young 20-something, he doesn't believe in all of Rome's views – his own father was a priest who left the church to marry his mother – but he says it's still a once-in-a-lifetime event. "This is important," he says, "and is bringing energy to Brazil."
The pope's Brazil schedule
May 9: Arrives; evening appearance at São Bento monastery in São Paulo.
May 10: Meets President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; addresses the Brazilian bishops in the cathedral of São Paulo.
May 11: Canonizes the country's first saint, Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvao.
May 12: Visits facility for recovering drug addicts at Aparecida, the site of Brazills most famous shrine.
May 13: Presides over Mass opening the fifth general meeting of regional bishops. Heads back to Rome.
Source: Catholic World News