|Brazil – and much of Latin America and the Caribbean – is in the midst of what believers proudly call an ‘evangelical revolution’. According to the IBGE, Brazil’s census board, the country’s Catholic population fell from around 89% in 1980 to 74% in 2000, while its Pentecostal flock grew from 3% to 10%.
A public expression of this new evangelicalism is the ‘March for Jesus’. Over half a million Christians gathered in Rio de Janeiro in early June this year. The annual event was held under the slogan ‘I belong to Jesus. I am a champion’, in honor of the participants’ faith and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which Brazil is hosting this year. Another ‘March for Jesus’ is planned in Sao Paulo on 12 July, a day before the World Cup final. This one is expected to draw 2 million participants. It’s the country’s largest religious gathering, and more popular than the Salvador Carnival.
March for Jesus, Brazil
Cesar Romero Jacob, a political scientist at Rio’s Catholic University, said Brazil’s evangelical revolution has gripped two key areas: remote regions in the Amazon and the deprived outskirts of Brazilian cities. A ‘state vacuum’, where poverty, violence, alcoholism and prostitution proliferated, has laid the foundations for the boom. “If the Catholic church and the state are absent, somebody else will occupy the space,” says Jacob. “Pentecostalism occupied it. The first movers often are mothers who are worried about their husbands becoming alcoholics, their daughters becoming prostitutes or their sons becoming drug traffickers. The church helps to hold their family nucleus together.”
“It is Jesus who cures. She is an instrument”
Brazil’s evangelical revolution also sees miracle healers take centre stage. Take Alani dos Santos, a ‘child healer’ better known as the Missionarinha or Little Missionary, who is reputedly capable of healing the sickest of congregants with a touch of her hands. Twice a week, bandage-clad and cancer-ridden believers flock to one of her church services in search of a miracle. “Thousands of people have been touched,” says her father, Pastor Adauto Santos, 44, a former hairdresser and car thief who runs what is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most talked-about churches. “She’s a normal kid – apart from this gift,” he says, adding: “It is Jesus who cures. She is an instrument.”
But there is also growing opposition to Brazil’s evangelical ‘success preachers’ and the increasing use of infant evangelists, as the motives are not always pure and self-enrichment is common. While many question why Brazil’s poorest citizens should pay a tenth of their meagre wages to churches, Cesar Romero Jacob says the decision is often pragmatic. “My theory is that people are paying to be citizens in a place where they can,” he says. “In this environment they feel they are someone. It is a form of leisure, a place where you can find work, where you feel protected.”
It’s a typical contrast in Brazil: while the number of evangelical believers in Brazil continues to grow and Brazil has become a missionary-sending nation, still 20% of the population lives in slums. As the world’s attention is on Brazil this month, it’s a good moment to pray for the advance of the Gospel in this nation.
March for Jesus
Vocativ: the little missionary
Source: Tom Phillips, Prayercast, Vocativ, Jessica Martinez, March for Jesus
Brazil: Serving Christ in the favelas
Since his inauguration last year, pope Francis has been consistently working for the poor, boldly pointing out the need for social justice in countries with huge rich-poor gaps. During his first overseas trip to Brazil last year he challenged priests to bring the message of the Gospel to the world’s slums. “It is in the favelas that we must go to seek and serve Christ,” he told thousands of bishops, priests and seminarians from around the world gathered for a mass at Rio’s St Sebastian Cathedral. “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel.”
“In many places, the culture of exclusion, of rejection is spreading. There is no place for the elderly or for the unwanted child. There is no time for the poor person on the edge of the street,” he added. “Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They too are invited to the table of the Lord.”
One of the priests who has faithfully ministered in the slums of Rio is Father Renato Chiera. He has been a priest for 46 years, and for 36 of those he has lived in the slums. For nine years he saw children get murdered in drug wars. But the final straw came when he found 30 dead people in his parish. In 1986 he decided to build a shelter for homeless teens, the ‘Casa do Menor’. “We have many teenagers who have committed murder,” he says. “That destroys their already low self-esteem, and they see no future. They usually don’t have a family and they try to find a replacement in gangs or drug cartels.”
The ‘Casa do Menor’ now has 25 centers all over Brazil, providing medical care, education and sports. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup taking place in Brazil, Father Chiera hopes part of the spotlight will be on children at risk who try to escape a world of drugs and violence.
Source: Pope Francis, Renato Chiera