The presence and future of the Church

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, former Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil, about the Church in Latin America.

WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - The Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopates is the right moment to ask the question: What is the condition of the Catholic Church on the continent, which is called Catholic?

CARDINAL CLÁUDIO HUMMES, OFM: - The Catholic Church is very vivid and conducts intensive pastoral activities. After the turning point, which was the Second Vatican Council and the Conferences of the Latin American Episcopates, especially the conference in Medellín (1968) and Puebli (1979) we focused on two aspects of evangelisation activities and on our presence among the poor.
You mean solidarity with the poor, and generally speaking, protection of their rights. In spite of the continuous involvement of the Church in this field poverty exists and we must be close to the poor (faith in Christ always leads us to the poor).
The present challenges the Church faces today are connected with the spreading of the new post-modernistic culture, its features being secularism, laicism, agnosticism of the intelligentsia, relativism and religious pluralism. Another challenge is the sects, especially the Pentecostals, that have worked out effective methods to win followers.

- The pre-Columbian and Afro-American cults as well as the very dynamic Protestant sects are spreading all over the continent. What is the 'secret' of their success?

- Members of the sects go out to people, especially to the poor, and draw them thanks to personal contacts. In Brazil we lose about 1% of Catholics every year, they joint various sects. That has happened for the last 25 years. That's why, 25 million Brazilians belong to various sects (today Catholics constitute 68% of the whole population). Unfortunately, the process of losing Catholics is continuing and we cannot see any signs that it will stop.

- What should the Catholic Church do to stop this alarming process?

- We must continue activities to help the poor, to support them and organise proper missionary activities. Priests cannot wait for believers in parishes but must go out and visit homes, schools, hospitals and universities, not forgetting about evangelising the political environments. After the great ideologies had fallen people were disillusioned; they are feeling lost and lonely. That's why, they are seeking a new sense of life and community in which they could feel other people's closeness (paradoxically, people in today's metropolises suffer from loneliness). We must do our best to make the faithful, especially those living on the peripheries, feel 'the warmth' of the Church.

- The Church in Latin America 'inherited' deep Christian tradition of peoples with great Marian piety as well as vivid and rich folk religiousness. How should the Church protect this legacy in the world that is becoming more and more open and globalised?

- We deal with very valuable legacy that the Church must preserve. The legacy should be appreciated and at the same time enriched by proper catechesis - the word of God. We must help the faithful to establish personal relationships with Christ since without this kind of contact faith is weak. Folk religiousness is rich because it reflects enculturation of Christian faith in various old cultures of the continent. Today this religiousness should be renewed to face new urban secularised culture. Marian piety is very strong in Latin America. In a way it constitutes a motherly dimension of faith and at the same time it symbolises love and protection.

- Recently Benedict XVI has spoken about powerful influential groups that endanger Latin America. What kind of lobby does he mean?

- The dangerous lobby is first of all the one I would call 'secularist'. In Latin America the process of laicisation is forced by a real lobby that above all attempts to exert pressure on mass media and legislative organs. Certain scientific environments support this process and they usurp the leading role in society. They present the Church as a dogmatic institution of the past and an obstacle to modernisation. One should mention the lobby promoting abortion, contraceptives and recently euthanasia. The lobby has been supported by international bodies. There is also the biotechnological lobby, connected with the new sector of biotechnology and its big interests.

- From the political point of view Latin America is experiencing an alarming turn towards the left, the leftist populism. The symbol of this 'leftist turn' is the internal and external politics of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez. Could you explain this situation?

- We have a new political situation on the entire continent. First of all Latin American countries are trying to find some way of collaboration and to be slowly united. Thus treaties concerning free trade, e.g. the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), and political agreements (the European Union is an example for our continent). United Latin America, having political unity as well, could play a much bigger role on the international scene. It is true that left-wing parties are in power in many countries. However, these powers ensure us that they do not want to repeat the experiment of the 'socialist regime', but they are new left wing parties and have new social proposals. Yet, the populism and nationalism of some political parties make us anxious. We see that they blame others for the problems of Latin America whereas it would be better to admit that they have made mistakes and are aware of the shortcomings.

- Don't you think that the 'driving force' of this common politics of Latin America is not some great new political ideas or concrete verified economic proposals but is too often blind hatred towards the United States of America, anti-Americanism...

- Being against someone, being only 'anti' is not constructive. I support the projects of economic and political union of Latin America but I do not do that because I want to be against someone, to be 'anti'. These must be positive projects, open to other people.

- You have been investigating the situation of the continent for many years from the perspective of the big Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo. Now you are fulfilling your mission at the heart of the Catholic Church, in the Vatican. Has this changed your way of 'discerning' the problems of Latin America?

- I have been in the Vatican for several months and I am still feeling strong bonds with my country. I am experiencing the problems of Brazil although being at the centre of the Church I get to know many new elements of the vision of the world, which becomes wider and more universal. Anyway, I do not want to lose my bonds with Brazil since in my opinion the Apostolic See wants me to contribute my own experiences and sensitivity.

- Is Latin America still 'the continent of future' for the Catholic Church?

- We cannot say that Latin America is 'the future' of the Church since it is still her 'presence'. After all, half of the Catholic population of the world live on this continent. Naturally, future can be better but today we are a great treasure of the Church.

"Niedziela" 20/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: