News that Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope yesterday set off wild celebrations in Argentina and give further support to the oft-cited sentiment that God is Argentine. How could He be otherwise?
Having come from seemingly out of the mix, new Pope Francis was not unknown but neither was he apparently a front-runner in the election to succeed Benedict. Of course, if you believe that the election was the pre-ordained manifestation of God’s sovereign will, then it hardly matters whether he was well-known or not.
What’s interesting from the Latin American perspective is that, as I pointed out in my blog post of February 13, the region is now not just a recipient of missionaries but a significant source of missionaries worldwide—both Catholic and Protestant—and arguably the most vibrant, growing region for the Christian faith.
That the new pope was drawn from the Americas is a recognition of these demographic trends, and acknowledgement that a new, non-European perspective would be valuable in addressing the concerns of the modern Catholic Church.
This week’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has resigned and will relinquish his official papal duties at the end of the month has brought into relief the important role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and the important role of Latin America in the Catholic Church. Home to over 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, some Latin Americans are suggesting that the next Pope to be elected should—for the first time in history—come from outside Europe and, specifically, that he should come from Latin America.
Whatever the merits arguing in favor of a geographic approach to Church leadership, the discussion highlights an important point: increasingly, the vibrancy of the Catholic Church is coming not from its traditional base in Europe and North America, but from developing regions of the world.
Much as a shift in broader global governance is underway, with power diversifying from north to south, this pattern is being repeated in the religious sphere as well—not just in the Catholic Church, but even more so in Protestant evangelical churches.
For years, the growing influence of evangelicals across Latin America has been noted by observers. Adherents have multiplied dramatically, building on a base established primarily but not exclusively from North American missionaries working within the region. But the pattern of evangelization is rapidly changing. In fact, according to Dr. Rodolfo Girón, for many years a pioneer in Latin American missions, the mentality of Latin American evangelical churches is changing from being receivers of missionaries to being senders of missionaries.
Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to Mexico will begin on March 23 but unlike his predecessor, Benedict will not feel as comfortable calling Mexico siempre fiel—and so hopefully some of his agenda will include discussion on religious diversity.
Pope John Paul II called Mexico “forever faithful” in 1990 due to Catholicism being the dominant faith in the country. However, rising popularity of other religions and the emergence of atheist and agnostic thought in the country could very well be pushing Mexico to a tipping point, leading to question the favored role Catholicism plays in sociopolitical life.
To this day, many large companies in Mexico (national and international) hold posadas, celebrate Christmas and observe other Catholic holidays such as Easter. Some even hold mass within their facilities to kick off special events. On the flip side, there are very few companies in Mexico that observe Yom Kippur or Ramadan. It is still a commonplace human resource practice to ask potential employees what their religion is during recruitment and—though none will publicly accept it—religion still plays a criteria in actual talent selection (otherwise, why would they ask about it?). This, by the way, is illegal under Article 3 of the Federal Labor Law.
Catholicism is not just favored in the private sector. During the first weeks of December and leading up to the 12th (Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe) Catholics are not only allowed to march on some of the busiest streets in the cities as part of their pilgrimage while causing transit chaos, they are even escorted by public officials to guarantee their safety. This is a nicety not usually awarded to other faiths and it is funded by taxes paid for by people of all faiths.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
Prejudice against religions of African descent is a growing problem in Brazil. The most recent census, taken last year, notes that more than 70 percent of Brazilians self-identified as Catholic—making Brazil the largest country of Catholic worshippers in the world. However, religiously motivated conflict typically originates among smaller, more ideological faiths. For example, police have been called in to break up conflicts between Evangelical Brazilians, who represent 15 percent of the population, and religious Afro-Brazilians, 0.3 percent of the population. This is frequent in cities like Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and São Luiz.
The Mapa da Intolerância Religiosa: Violação ao Direito de Culto no Brasil (Map of Religious Intolerance: Violations of the Right to Worship in Brazil) was launched last May to monitor religious intolerance throughout the country. The Mapa aims to relay to the press and relevant authorities any instance of physical or symbolic aggression.
Complaints to the police range from invasions of Afro-Brazilian churches by radical evangelicals to the iconic death of Mother Yalorixá Gilda. A famous name in my community, Mother Gilda was the leader of the Candomblé religion—the most traditional of the Afro-based religions in Brazil. She had her photo printed in a newspaper of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), the largest Pentecostal church of the country, with inscriptions incorrectly suggesting that she was a charlatan. Although the courts ruled in favor of Mother Gilda’s family, the conflicts between the two sects did not end.
Brazil’s government has also violated the right to worship. Three years ago, the mayor of Salvador, João Henrique Carneiro, ordered the overthrow of a religious African temple in a critical area of the city. He alleged that the temple was built illegally. This act was seen as a serious crime against human rights, in addition to being unconstitutional and the social activist protests that followed made headlines in numerous newspapers. That caused even more dismay in Salvador being the city with the most number of Afro-Brazilian religions (1155).