Question of Faith

      Question of Faith

    Despite a continuous draining of the faithful, Brazil continues to be
    the country with the largest contingent of Catholics in the world. Passed
    a phase of acute social awareness in which some priests dressed in guerrilla
    frocks and demanded justice, many Catholic and laymen nowadays would prefer
    discussing the Bible and the last papal message. On the eve of John Paul
    II’s third pilgrimage to Terra de Santa Cruz (Land of the Holy Cross),
    a previous name of the country, Brazzil draws a vast portrait of
    the Catholic Church in Brazil.

    Rodolfo Espinoza

    Some sobering numbers should serve as a counterbalance for the enthusiasm
    the pope’s October trip to Brazil is generating in the country. This is
    the third time John Paul II visits the "world’s largest Catholic nation",
    with 115 million of the 958 million Catholics in the world or 12 percent
    of the entire Catholic Church. While 99 percent of Brazilians called themselves
    Catholic in 1890, just one year after the Republic’s proclamation, this
    number had fallen to 93.7% in 1960, to 80% in 1991, and has dwindled to
    75% in the latest poll.

    Even though these numbers are not a faithful portrait of the religious
    reality since they just tell the number of people who declared themselves
    to be Catholic, they are useful at least to show that many people are not
    afraid anymore of saying that they are not Catholic. At least 40 million
    Brazilians now say that they have another religion or have no religion
    at all. Starting in the ’60s the Catholic Church has been losing believers
    mainly to Evangelicals and Spiritists. According to estimates from the
    CNBB (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil—National Conference
    of Brazilian Bishops), at least 600,000 Brazilians abandon the Catholic
    Church every year to join Evangelical churches.

    There are 16 million Evangelicals in Brazil today, 10 percent of the
    population, meaning that the world’s largest Catholic country has today
    the world’s third largest Protestant contingent. In 1980 there were only
    8 million members and they represented 6.7 percent of the population. And
    a recent study showed that while 75% of Brazilians still call themselves
    Catholic, a mere 13% go to mass and participate in the Church’s life with
    assiduity. Among Protestants, two thirds are active in their religion.

    "I am sure: from those who declare themselves Catholics, half of them
    accept only part of what Catholicism preaches," says priest Alberto Antoniazzi,
    director of the Theology Course at the Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais)

    Brazilian Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, the president of CNBB, estimated
    in 1992 that Brazil had about 60,000 Protestant pastors at work and that
    the Catholic Church had lost at least 20 million people to Protestant denominations.
    In September 1995, alarmed with the situation, Pope John Paul II exhorted
    the Brazilian bishops to do more to counteract the influence of other religions
    and sects. "The serious problems of sects," he said, "is spreading like
    an oil stain, threatening to cause collapse of the structure of faith in
    many nations," adding: "It is clear that their success can be explained
    by the lack of religious culture among the people, caused in large part
    by the loss of religious experience."

    The pope also criticized what he saw as an ecumenical effort gone awry:
    "In the area of inculturation as well as ecumenism, in fact, one can see
    that…the search for understanding, welcome or openness towards other
    religious groups or churches has led to serious mutilations of the Catholic
    faith and liturgical prayer."

    Do you believe in God? This was one of the questions asked in a Vox
    Populi national poll conducted in the first quarter of this year in Brazil.
    Yes, 99% of the people responded. To the item "Which is your religion?",
    72% answered with Catholic, 11% with Evangelical and 9% with no religion.
    Another 3% declared themselves Spiritists and another 1% adherent of Candomblé
    and Umbanda, religions with African roots. To the question "Have you been
    to church last weekend?," 57% answered no.


    But there is also good news for the Catholic Church. Since 1980, when
    the Pope visited Rio for the first time, the Church saw its numbers there
    grow by half a million new faithful and 35 new parishes and during these
    seven years, 15,000 new catechists joined the Church’s crusade in Rio.
    This according to the latest statistics from Rio’s archdiocese. The official
    numbers from IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística
    _ Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) are from 1991 and show
    that since 1980 the Church lost more than one million followers in Rio

    Also on the bright side for the Church is the fact that after a two-decade
    dearth of candidates to the priesthood and religious orders, the seminaries
    and convents are filled to capacity with would-be priests and sisters.
    While there were 350 new priests ordained in 1981, this number had grown
    to 510 by 1991. This increase, however, was not enough to accompany the
    population growth and the number of priests to serve the Catholic flock
    is still very low. Brazil had 12,723 priests in 1981, that is one per 9,750
    Catholics. In 1992, 14,708 priests meant that there was one clerk per 10,620

    In 1970, from a total of 13,092 priests working in Brazil, 41% were
    foreigners. By 1995 though, this rate had fallen to 23% while the number
    of priests had grown to 15,310. During the same period the number of religious
    priests has declined while there was an increase in secular clergy. The
    number of both categories are now roughly equivalent. In 1970 there was
    1.6 religious priests for every diocesan priest. Worldwide the proportion
    is two secular priests for each religious one.

    The Catholic Church, which has always shown a patronizing attitude and
    disdain for other faiths, is finally learning with them how to draw people
    and maintain them. It’s been only two years since the Church started its
    first national TV network, the Redevida. Although underfunded and for the
    most part amateurish, the new network is a concerted reaction to the use
    of the electronic media by other religions, in particular the Evangelicals.

    The Catholics also came later to the Brazilian Internet where Protestants
    and other denominations already have more than one thousand homepages.
    But their presence is being felt there too with a few dozen pages in place
    and a half a dozen more being created every month. The dispute between
    conservative and liberals has already appeared on the net. The conservative
    came in first with the Rio archdiocese launching its homepage in September
    of last year. Their subtle disapproval of their colleagues on the left
    is shown by their omission of these pages on their recommended hyperlinks.
    The liberals responded a few months later through the São Paulo
    archdiocese page and more recently with a space dedicated to the so-called
    Igreja Nova (New Church) that is linked to the Olinda and Recife diocese
    and presents texts by Clodovis Boff, brother of Liberation Theology theologian
    Leonardo Boff.

    Dom Estêvão Bittencourt, a staunchly conservative Benedictine
    monk from Rio and a respected intellectual has become an Internet sensation
    by answering questions on line at the Mosteiro de São Bento site
    ( The questions
    can be made in Portuguese, English, French, Italian and Spanish. The elder
    Dom Estêvão, who responds to at least three questions a day,
    explained recently in an interview with daily newspaper O Globo:
    "One has to adapt oneself to the times. It would be foolish not to use
    the Internet, such an admirable way for spreading the gospel."

    Brazilian Catholics are counting on the papal visit as a powerful push
    for the Church and its plans of recouping lost terrain. In Rio, John Paul
    II will be also participating in two international megaevents with which
    the Church expects to mark the end of the millennium: the Second World
    Encounter of the Pope with Families to be held at the world’s largest soccer
    stadium, Maracanã, and the Second Theological Encounter. Catholics
    from 190 countries will be taking part in these events.



    The lack of freedom and the extinction of political parties by the military
    who took over the country starting in 1964 gave origin to several political
    movements inside the Church. The better known and most widespread of them
    were the CEBs (Comunidade Eclesial de Base—Grassroots Church Community)
    in which socialist views and a vocal defense of the dispossessed were welcome
    and prospered.

    The CEBs experienced their heyday during the ’70s. They still count
    some 2 million people and 70,000 communities around the country, although
    some of them are just a shadow of what they used to be. Among many of those
    that survived, the focus has changed. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall
    and the demise of Soviet communism, the movement has changed its drive.
    In many instances now conservative leaders have taken control and the social
    discourse has given place to religious and ecological themes.

    To redefine their priorities and reorganize for the ’90s and the new
    millennium, 2,500 CEB representatives from all over Brazil together with
    57 bishops gathered last July in São Luís, state of Maranhão.
    Friar Clodovis Boff, one of the leaders of the CEB movement, doesn’t seem
    too enthusiastic about the groups prospects, however. In a recent article
    he wrote: "There is a certain perplexity, there is a disheartenment and
    a relenting of enthusiasm and vigor."

    The surviving activists have shown that they still have fire in their
    bellies. The encounter divulged a document harshly critical of the government
    panning the administration for stressing its economic agenda and forgetting
    the social issues: "We noticed that, today, the worst exclusion is the
    exclusion from work when you lose land and a job," said in part an official
    statement." This situation generates violence and disintegrates families.
    We also noticed that the big cause for this exclusion is neoliberalism,
    a death project that only helps the market and those who can compete."

    These days the groups of RCC (Renovação Carismática
    Católica—Catholic Charismatic Renewal) seem to be getting all the
    attention. The RCC experience started in the U.S. in 1967. Until recently,
    however, the movement was seen with disdain or barely tolerated by much
    of the Brazilian hierarchy. "We always had two great products, Jesus and
    salvation. All we needed was to sell it right," explained priest Leo Tarcísio
    Pereira, one of the leaders of the RCC, in a recent interview with the
    weekly magazine Isto É. The RCC is the Catholic version of
    Evangelical Pentecostalism with its emphasis on miracles, exorcisms and
    manifestations of the Holy Ghost.

    According to a study by CERIS (Centro de Estatística Religiosa
    e Investigação Social—Center of Religious Statistic and Social
    Investigation) most of those joining the RCCs belong to the middle class.
    The work also has shown that the RCCs are not stealing believers from the
    CEBs. "The charismatic’s profile is of someone who doesn’t mix Church and
    politics," said sociologist and priest Luiz Roberto Benedetti, who coordinated
    the research. The conclusion was that the movement has mostly become a
    magnet for those Catholics who had abandoned Catholicism in favor of evangelical

    Like the Evangelicals, their inspiration, the charismatic Catholics
    are always carrying their bibles. Their religious services include testimonials
    of converts, miraculous cures, lively songs and dances. "The Renewal is
    strongly emotional," said theologian priest Alberto Antoniazzi to the weekly
    newsmagazine Veja. "It allows the layman a direct contact with the
    Holy Ghost. That’s why it has become an option for Catholics from the big
    cities who for a long time have been away from the Church."

    Today there are more than 15 million Catholics active not only in RCCs,
    but also in other equally conservative movements with names like Focolares
    (a movement created in 1964 in Italy by Chiara Lubich), Opus Dei (founded
    by Blessed Josemaria in 1928, in Madrid, Spain), Encontro de Casais com
    Cristo (Encounter of Couples with Christ), which was created in São
    Paulo in 1970. The new Catholicism is an old Catholicism that often preaches
    blind faith and unquestioned acceptance of the pope’s teachings.


    This is a very different Church from that of the oppressed, which drew
    a massive following in the ’70s. The Church then had become a shelter for
    all sorts of discontents with a dictatorship that suppressed freedom and
    encouraged corruption and greed among authorities and the well-to-do. Cardinal
    Paulo Evaristo Arns of São Paulo and Archbishop Hélder Câmara,
    both respected nationally and internationally, lent their prestige to the
    cause of the politically and economically oppressed. Dom Hélder
    was called the red bishop in a reference to his socialistic views and so
    terrified the generals that they declared him a "no-person," forbidding
    the media from even mentioning his name.

    The new approach has been resonating also in the seminaries. A CERIS
    study shows that today’s seminarists have a very different concept of their
    mission compared to the candidates to the priesthood in the early ’80s.
    While in 1982 80% of the future priests dreamed of working with the landless,
    the poor and the CEBs, 90% of the current candidates would like to be a
    parish vicar, to participate in prayer groups and to counsel youngsters.

    In 1985 the Holy See decided to forbid theologian Leonardo Boff from
    talking, imposing what it euphemistically called an "obsequious silence".
    It was the beginning of John Paul II’s harder line that would also close
    some religious schools and cut in five pieces the archdiocese of São
    Paulo (four new dioceses were born: São Miguel Paulista, Santo Amaro,
    Campo Limpo and Osasco), considerably reducing the influence of Dom Paulo
    Evaristo Arns and giving the new spots to bishops more attuned with Karol
    Wojtyla’s conservative agenda.

    With the division, Dom Arns also lost half of the 14.5 million believers
    who were part of the archdiocese as well as 590 of 875 CEBs that existed
    at the time. In the Olinda and Recife archdiocese, Dom Hélder was
    replaced by Dom José Cardoso Sobrinho, an ultraconservative. As
    a consequence, activities from CEBs have practically disappeared from that

    There are those who see a link between the political involvement of
    the church and the loss of the faithful. "Movements like the Liberation
    Theology caused Catholicism to lose its appeal among its followers," said
    Caio Fábio D’Araújo Filho, president of AEVB (Associação
    Evangélica Brasileira—Brazilian Evangelical Association). The revitalization
    is occurring now thanks to the charismatic movement in urban centers and
    a return to traditional celebration in rural areas."

    Clara Mafra, a researcher with the ISER (Instituto de Estudos da Religião—Institute
    of Religious Studies) also believes that political militancy has cost millions
    of souls to Catholics. Her study entitled "Novo Nascimento" (New Birth)
    showed that 61% of the people who converted to 85 different evangelical
    denominations were Catholics. Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan friar
    who became the main theoretician of Liberation Theology in Brazil blames
    the traditional church for the heavy losses, however. "There is a smaller
    number of Protestant sects in places where Liberation Theology was stronger
    and less persecuted," he says.



    Brazil has five cardinals, the top names on the Church’s hierarchy in
    the country, but all of them should be substituted soon with prelates who
    think more like the Pope. Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, from São Paulo
    and Dom Eugênio Salles from Rio, both are more than 75 years old.
    Under Canon Law, a cardinal must tender his resignation at the age of 75.
    The Pope can refuse to accept such a resignation, but he seems to already
    have chosen a replacement for Dom Arns. Dom Lucas Moreira Neves from Salvador,
    state of Bahia, and Dom Aloísio Lorscheider, from Aparecida in the
    interior of São Paulo are also close to the age limit. Dom Freire
    Falcão from Brasília is the youngest one.

    Since 1995 under the presidency of Dom Lucas Moreira Neves, the conservative
    archbishop of Salvador, state of Bahia, the CNBB (Conferência Nacional
    dos Bispos do Brasil—National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) has been
    mostly cautious and forgiving in its relationship with the government.
    Last April, however, the release of a document by the 35th general assembly
    of bishops in Itaici, interior of São Paulo state, brought memories
    of more combative times.

    "There is a true purchase of votes of congressmen, through job offers,
    favors, public projects, fiscal exemptions, amnesty of debts and help financing
    institutions," said a statement. "It is an evident practice of active corruption
    by the government, which offers goods in exchange for votes." The document
    went on condemning the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration for not
    fulfilling its campaign promises symbolized by the five fingers of the
    hand representing agriculture, education, health, jobs, and security.

    The attack didn’t go unanswered. Cardoso released an official note calling
    the accusations "false, discrediting to the Congress and insulting to the
    government". The Church explained then that the document didn’t represent
    the hierarchy’s opinion, but it was only a paper prepared by the Ibrades
    (Instituto Brasileiro de Desenvolvimento—Brazilian Institute of Development)
    to serve as subsidy for the bishops’ discussion. The explanation, however,
    was not enough to dissipate the stormy clouds between the Church and Brasília.

    While the CNBB has prayed by a more moderate catechism, some of the
    organs linked to it don’t run away from polemics. Organizations like CIMI
    (Conselho Indigenista Missionário—Indianist Missionary Council)
    and CPT (Comissão Pastoral da Terra—Pastoral Commission of the Land)
    are still very much attuned with the liberal current in the Church.

    But for the most part the relationship between the Church and the government
    has been very amicable. In July, Cardoso has shown again that despite being
    officially an atheist he listens attentively to the Catholic hierarchy.
    With a background of protests from those who defend separation between
    Church and State, the President signed a law that regulates the teaching
    of religion in elementary schools. The new legislation makes religion an
    obligatory discipline like language and mathematics. While previous legislation
    talked about religious instruction "without any onus to the public coffers",
    Cardoso eliminated this clause. In no place it is said that what will be
    taught is Catholicism, but in practice this is what is already happening
    in public schools that teach the subject.

    In another display of good will, the President, who recently visited
    the Pope in the Vatican, is breaking protocol and will go to Rio to meet
    John Paul II. It will be the first time that a Brazilian president leaves
    Brasília to greet a foreign dignitary.



    The first mass on Brazilian territory was celebrated on April 26, 1500
    by Friar Henrique de Coimbra just four days after Portuguese navigator
    Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil. The new land was then called
    Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross). In Cabral’s party there were
    a few secular priests and 15 Franciscan friars led by Frei Henrique de
    Coimbra. None of the them, however, remained in Brazil when Cabral continued
    his trip to India. Evangelization started years later with a few priests
    fixing residence in some trading and storage forts along the Brazilian

    For lack of historical records, it is hard to describe how were the
    pioneer years for Catholicism in the new country. There is little doubt
    that some Franciscans lived in Porto Seguro in what is today Bahia state
    before 1521. Priests and other colonists were eventually captured and eaten
    by the Indians. When Portuguese King John III sent Tomé de Souza
    as Brazil’s first governor-general he included several secular priests
    and Padre Manoel da Nóbrega leading four Jesuits. The Jesuits started
    a church and a school in Salvador, state of Bahia, and in one year, they
    had some 1,000 Indians ready to be baptized. Instruction and catechism
    lessons were given in the so-called "lingoa geral."

    The Diocese of Salvador, the first one in the New World was erected
    in 1551 and Dom Pedro Fernandes Sardinha was made its first bishop the
    next year. In 1553 the Jesuit missions of Brazil and Portugal were separated
    with Nóbrega being named superior. Duarte da Costa succeeded Tomé
    de Souza as governor-general in 1553 taking with him 16 Jesuits, among
    them one who would be known as the Apostle of Brazil, José de Anchieta.
    Soon after, Bishop Sardinha was captured by the Caeté Indians and
    eaten after a shipwreck. He was on his way to Lisbon to answer before the
    king to some accusations made against him by the Jesuits.

    It wasn’t before 1584 that the Franciscans and the Benedictines started
    an organized work of evangelization. Franciscan Frei Melquior de Santa
    Catarina and his colleagues initially established themselves in Olinda.
    The Benedictines headed by Dom Antônio Ventura founded in Salvador
    their first abbey. By 1600 they already had monasteries in Rio, Olinda,
    Paraíba do Norte and São Paulo. In a 70-year period, the
    Franciscans were all over with more than 20 monasteries and several Indian
    missions. The Carmelites would arrive in 1589 under the leadership of Frei
    Domingos Freire.

    The missionary push to the Amazon region didn’t start before the end
    of the 16th century. The question of Indian protection has made understanding
    among missionaries and secular authorities very difficult. Governor General
    Diogo de Botelho (1602-1607) went as far as to ask the King that no new
    monastery was erected in Brazil. Partly due to clashes about how to deal
    with the Indians, Paraíba’s governor, Feliciano de Coelho, had already
    expelled the Jesuits from his state in 1593 and the Franciscans in 1596.

    Emboldened by the system of dual democracy of Portugal and Spain between
    1580 and 1640, the Dutch occupied Bahia in 1624 capturing governor Diogo
    de Mendonça Furtado and all the priests they could put their hands
    on and taking them to Holland. Salvador’s cathedral was converted into
    a Calvinist temple and the churches into warehouses. By 1654, after losing
    the Guararapes battle, the Dutch signed their capitulation ending the most
    serious Protestant threat to colonial Brazil.


    In the 17th century, Jesuit Padre Antônio Vieira became the most
    vocal defender of the indigenous peoples rights. But by 1661 the Jesuits
    were expelled from the country. Only in 1680, thanks to new laws that forbade
    the enslavement of Indians and gave the missionaries control over the Indians,
    the mission work among the aborigines restarted. From 1680 to 1750 Jesuits,
    Franciscans, Carmelites and some Mercedarians developed an exemplary work
    at several aldeias.

    The 18th century gold fever in Brazil caused the Catholic Church several
    losses. There was a pronounced lack of interest in religion and members
    of the cleric also caught the precious-stone fever. The anti-religious
    sentiment culminated in the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1782
    by minister of state Marquês de Pombal (1750-1777) and the Catholic
    Church was stripped of its task of educating the population. The state
    from then on would assume this job. Anticlericalism wanted to suppress
    religious orders of both sexes. By the end of the 18th century all the
    religious orders were forbidden from accepting novices.

    For economic reasons—the government had to support new dioceses and
    pay the bishops’ salaries—the number of dioceses and bishops was maintained
    low during colonial Brazil. Up to 1822 when Independence was declared,
    Brazil had only seven dioceses: Salvador (created in 1551), Rio de Janeiro
    (1676), São Luiz do Maranhão (1677), Olinda-Recife (1678),
    Belém do Pará (1719), São Paulo (1746), and Mariana
    (1748). At the end of the colonial period, the notion was well established
    that priests were civil servants.

    The transition in the Church from being dependent on the Portuguese
    crown into being controlled by the Brazilian government mirrored the bloodless
    transformation of Brazil from a colony into an independent empire in 1822
    and then a republic in 1889. Regent Pedro I, who would become Emperor Pedro
    I, had several clerics at his side when he proclaimed Brazil independent
    from Portugal following the attempt by Portugal to return Brazil to colonial
    status, after a period in which Rio became capital of the Portuguese empire
    following the royal family fleeing from Lisbon in 1808 pressed by Napoleon.
    Dom João VI, the Portuguese king, arrived in Rio on March 7, 1808.
    That Brazilian city then became the Portuguese empire headquarters. One
    of the clerics was the first person to proclaim Pedro King of Brazil when
    he cried, "Viva o primeiro rei do Brasil." (Long live Brazil’s first king).

    There were 15 members of the clergy in the National Constituent Assembly
    presided over by Rio’s bishop José Caetano da Silva Coutinho that
    gathered in Rio on April 17, 1923. The new constitution contained the following
    clauses: religious freedom for all Christians and tolerance for non-Christians,
    who, however, lost their political rights; Catholicism is the state’s religion
    and the state has the obligation to maintain it; bishops had the right
    to censor publications dealing with dogma and morals.

    The new constitution didn’t please the emperor, however, and Pedro I
    selected a committee to write the Imperial Constitution of 1824 under which
    Brazil was governed until the Proclamation of the Republic. Most of the
    religious provisions were spared by the facelift. "The Roman Catholic Apostolic
    religion," read the new charter, "will continue being the religion of the
    empire. All other religions will be permitted with their domestic and private
    observances, in houses destined for that purpose, without any exterior
    form like a church." The clergy was to be supported by the nation’s treasury.
    During the last days of Portuguese rule the stipend had been so meager
    that the clergy lived in a state close to misery.

    Regalism was the order of the day during the reign of Pedro I (1822-1831)
    and then during the regency (1831-1840) with Pedro II still too young to
    assume the government. Messages from the pope required the imperial placet
    and dioceses and religious orders suffered continuous secular interference.
    During the 19th century some religious communities simply disappeared.

    The so-called `religious question", which opposed the clergy and masonry,
    is believed to be one of the main causes for the Brazilian Empire’s downfall
    and the Proclamation of the Republic on November 15, 1889. An important
    issue at the time was the decision of the Church to not accept the Emperor
    as supreme arbiter of religious matters.

    The demands of separation between Church and state by the anti-imperial
    forces were promptly meted after the emperor’s fall. On January 7, 1890,
    a decree abolished the patronage of the Church by the state and separated
    both institutions. The separation between Church and State also meant that
    public instruction would be laic. As for religious instruction, according
    to the Federal Republican Constitution promulgated on February 24, 1891,
    it could be given in public schools as long as it was taught after school
    hours and the state didn’t have to pay the instructor.

    The Catholics were allowed to keep their own schools. The ensuing constitutions
    in 1934, 1937, and 1946 maintained the same approach of a free Church in
    a free State. The 1946 constitution introduced the notion that the federal,
    state, and municipal governments cannot levy taxes "on places of worship
    of any sect."



    Despite the impression to the contrary, the Catholic Church was never
    a serious power in Brazil. The Empire smothered it and the New Republic
    wanted distance from it. Both seemed interested in making it as innocuous
    as possible. The installation of the republic was a blessing for Catholicism.
    With the separation of Church and State, Rome was finally able to create
    the bishoprics the Empire had always denied. In 1889 there were only 12
    dioceses in Brazil. By 1960 through the action of Popes Leo XIII, Benedict
    XV, Pius XI and Pius XII this number had grown to 25 archdioceses and 87
    dioceses. It wasn’t before 1905 that the country had its first cardinal
    in the person of Dom Joaquim Arcoverde de Albuquerque.

    Similar to what happened in Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, and Salazar’s
    Portugal, the Church in Brazil also backed the dictatorship even though
    there were some dissonant voices. The Catholic hierarchy was in favor of
    the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship during the ’30s, helped topple João
    Goulart’s left-leaning but democratically elected government in 1964, applauded
    the introduction of the AI 5 (Institutional Act 5), a dictatorial decree
    from 1968, which muzzled the media and placed federal censors in the press
    rooms. The good will tide only started to change after members of the clergy
    were imprisoned and tortured.

    The Catholic Church and authorities never broke some informal ties.
    In practice, the Church and Catholic religious associations always continued
    to administer welfare, health and education funds furnished by the government.
    The Catholic Church has become the de-facto "official" religion since most
    of the population declare being Catholics. Priests, however, have very
    little authority over a flock that is Catholic by tradition and not by
    faith. For most people religious duties are just social obligations and
    they go to a church only on special occasions such as weddings, funerals
    and traditional ceremonies on Christmas and Easter for example.

    Religious tolerance in Brazil? It never existed, says Antônio
    Flávio Pierucci, a professor of sociology at Universidade de São
    Paulo. Says he, "Catholicism was the official religion since colonial times,
    state religion and exclusivist."


    Thales de Azevedo, a clerical sociologist, wrote in Social Change
    in Brazil in 1957: "If preventive measures are not taken in due time,
    the Brazilian Church shall have to endure great if not irretrievable losses,
    and most of Brazil may perhaps be lost to Catholicism." The lack of Brazilian
    priests has made Brazil for a long time a missionary land. By the mid ’60s
    about half of the country’s clergy were foreigners.

    A shallow faith by Catholic adherents has made Brazil into a fertile
    ground for the development of Protestantism, African cults, spiritualism
    and plain secularism.

    Traditional fetish cults have become a second religion for many who
    don’t see any conflict between going to a voodoo cult Friday night and
    then to a Mass on Sunday. Brazilians proverbial tolerance has also attracted
    a massive influx of Protestant denominations starting at the end of the
    19th century and including Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and
    Presbyterians. After World War II new groups arrived, namely Jehovah’s
    Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals and adherents of the Four Square Gospel.
    The Pentecostals in particular were very successful in attracting new faithful.

    In 1960 the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil drafted a road
    map to improve the Church’s image and prevent further erosion of the faithful.
    Appealing to programs of social action the bishops proposed mass education
    by radio, agrarian reform, and unionization of rural workers. Almost 40
    years later these problems continue to be the main preoccupation of the
    Church and the society.

    The following document signed by the three Brazilian cardinals was released
    in April 1963, but it seems written just last week: "Brazil is an underdeveloped
    country where the masses do not share in the progress of the country and
    where poverty and premature death exist on a large scale and where the
    impact between rural and urban realities generates very grave consequences
    of loss of individuality. It is an order of things where a minority disposing
    of resources has full access to culture, health, comfort and luxury while
    a majority deprived of resources is denied the exercise of many of the
    fundamental and natural rights enumerated in Pacem in Terris encyclical
    (by John XXIII), such as the right to existence and to a decent standard
    of living."

    Regular meetings by the Brazilian hierarchy to discuss national issues
    of the Church and to prepare collective pastorals started in 1901. The
    first Brazilian council of bishops was held in 1939. Today, next to the
    United States, Brazil has the largest Catholic hierarchy in the world.
    But the Church has lacked a powerful voice for a long time. The first Brazilian
    Catholic newspaper was published in 1930.

    In some particular ideological areas, however, the Church lobby has
    become more and more brazen and powerful since the first days of the republic.
    They have been able for decades, for example, to prevent legislation allowing
    divorce, which was introduced only in 1977. Thanks to their efforts, abortion
    continues illegal in the country. One of the main proofs of their force
    was their ability to introduce in the 1988 Constitution the obligatory
    teaching of religion.

    The Other
    Assembléia de Deus (Assembly of God)—The largest Pentecostal
    church in the country with 2.9 million people, 10,000 pastors, 130,000
    temples, 13 radio stations and two TV stations. It appeared in 1911 in
    Belém, capital of Pará state, after a dispute among Baptists.
    The first Pentecostal missionaries arrived in Brazil in 1910, just four
    years after the appearance of the Pentecostals in the United States.

    Congregação Cristã do Brasil (Christian
    Congregation of Brazil)—The result of a schism among the Presbyterians.
    Created in 1909 by an American Pentecostal. First temples were erected
    in the states of São Paulo and Paraná

    Evangelho Quadrangular (Four Square Gospel)—Introduced in Brazil
    during the ’40s by American evangelists. They used to preach in tents in
    the beginning. The first temples were built in São Paulo.

    Igreja Batista (Baptist Church)— It has 1.8 million believers
    and a network of 70 first and second grade schools. They have no TV or
    radio station.

    Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom
    of God)—Created in 1978 in Rio by Edir Macedo and a group of pastors who
    left the Igreja Pentecostal da Nova Vida (Pentecostal Church of the New
    Life). Growing fast in 50 countries. They have 2,500 temples and 321,000
    faithful in Brazil. Their strategy is to extensively use the media. In
    Brazil they bought the Record TV network. They own 47 TV stations and 26
    radio stations and they publish the 980,000-copies weekly Folha Universal.

    O Brasil para Cristo (Brazil for Christ) —Founded in 1955 by
    Brazilian Manuel de Melo, who was previously pastor at Assembléia
    de Deus and Evangelho Quadrangular.

    Renascer em Cristo (To Be Reborn in Christ)—Liberal and attractive
    to young people, the church has 120 temples in 10 states. They have a recording
    company called Gospel Records.

    Candomblé—From Africa, it was brought by black slaves.
    It has two main orixás (gods) Olorum and Obatalá,
    the kind father of all the orishas and humankind. In Bahia there are more
    than 3,000 terreiros (places of worship) for Umbandistas registered
    with the Federação Baiana de Cultos Afro-Brasileiros (Bahian
    Federation of Afro-Brazilian Cults). There are less than 2,000 Catholic
    churches in the whole state. "It is very common that a person leaves a
    Catholic mass and goes into a candomblé terreiro," says Júlio
    Braga, an anthropologist and an expert in Afro-Brazilian culture. Until
    1946 candomblé celebrations were forbidden by law and terreiros
    had to be registered in the police station up until 1974.

    Espiritismo (Spiritism)—Codified by French doctor and philosopher
    Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, better known as Alan Kardec (1804-1869).
    Kardec believed that we can contact the dead through mediums. It first
    appears in 1848 in the U.S. In Brazil Spiritism arrived in the second half
    of the nineteenth century brought by Spiritualists and homeopathic doctors.
    The practice was patronized by Emperor Pedro II and his minister José
    Bonifácio. The Brazilian Spiritist Federation was established in

    Patron Saint
    Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady Appeared) has become the most important
    religious symbol in Brazil. The cult of the saint, who is black due to
    the fact that it remained underwater for a long time, started in 1717 after
    some fishermen fetched a 15-inch terra-cotta statue in their net in the
    Paraíba do Sul River, in a region between São Paulo and Rio.
    Legend has it that the fishermen were having a hard day with no catch and
    then had an abundant and miraculous fishing catch after the statue appeared.

    The fame of the statue grew with time and it gained its first chapel
    in 1745. The first pilgrimages to the area that is today Aparecida started
    around that time. In 1822, the year Brazil was declared independent from
    Portugal, Emperor Pedro I proclaimed Nossa Senhora Aparecida patron saint
    of Brazil. More than one century later, in 1930, Pope Pius XI confirmed
    that title and in 1946 the Aparecida Basilica started to be built. The
    image was restored in the late ’70s after being broken by a fanatic.

    More than 3 million pilgrims visit the Basilica of Aparecida every year.
    Hundreds of thousands flock to the city on October 12, the saint’s day.
    Last year, 215,000 pilgrims went to Aparecida on that date. Tens of thousands
    of people go to the little town every weekend. With the exception of Mexico’s
    Virgin of Guadalupe and Poland’s Czechestowa sanctuary, no other Catholic
    shrine gets more visitors.

    On Line
    Offering polemics or just information on religion, representatives of different
    lines of thought in the Catholic Church have set their stores up on the
    Internet. Dozens of them have already claimed their territory in the brave
    new land of cyberspace. They contain names and telephone numbers of the
    hierarchy, priests and parishes. They also present schedules of masses,
    times of TV and radio programs, and explanations of the doctrine or the

    The all-encompassing Mundo Católico, for example, seems to be
    a complete site with dozens of links to other Catholic homepages. The sites
    from the archdioceses of São Paulo and Rio don’t hide their ideological
    preferences. The first one even has a section called Polemics, in which
    Catholics are invited to discuss topics like abortion, contraceptives,
    globalization, and divorce. Here are some of the main WEB sites:

    São Paulo Archdiocese –

    Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil –

    Igreja Nova (New Church) – from a group of laymen from Recife –

    Mundo Católico –

    Rio Católico (from Rio’s archdiocese) –

     On the Air
    The Catholic Church has the largest radio network in the country with at
    least 181 radio stations in 22 states in the Union, meaning that in every
    group of 16 radio stations one belongs to the Catholic Church. All these
    stations are registered in the name of foundations or companies created
    by clerics since Brazilian legislation forbids churches to own a broadcasting

    Until 1994 the radio broadcasting operation was fragmented with each
    radio creating its own programs. With the implementation of a network strategy,
    the radio stations have gained a new visibility and power through the RCR
    (Rede Católica de Rádios—Catholic Network of Radio Stations).

    Redevida, the national TV network still being built, was born in June
    1995 as a response to the success the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus
    has had with its own much more powerful network. The effort started at
    TV Independente, a small TV station from São José de Rio
    Preto, in the interior of São Paulo state. Initially the signal
    could only be picked up by the 3.2 million families who had a satellite
    dish and the subscribers of the TVA and NET cable services.

    To financially support the TV operation the Church created the Inbrac
    (Instituto Brasileiro de Comunicação Cristã—Brazilian
    Institute of Christian Communication). Initial estimates called for an
    investment of $100 million to install relay stations in about 300 dioceses.

    Redevida is on the air from six in the morning until midnight. Some
    of the programs have a professional look and deal with controversial themes
    in an intelligent manner. During the month of July for example the show
    Teentrevista interviewed pop singer Margareth Menezes, band Olodum,
    and leaders of the Axé project, which works with street children.
    In Tribuna Independente, broadcast daily from 10:30 p.m. to midnight,
    viewers are encouraged to participate by phone and fax. Among other themes
    the show discussed in the last few weeks plastic surgery, breast feeding,
    politics and development, ecumenism and more religious subjects like the
    Bible and loving the mother of Christ. On weekends the Catholic network
    also presents several musical shows. They still have a journalism department
    in charge of a daily news program about the activities of the Church and
    special reports on religion and cultural subjects.

    A Few Numbers
    According to the 1997 Catholic Almanac, Brazil has 37 archdioceses, 201
    dioceses, 13 prelatures, 2 abbacies, 5 cardinals, 45 archbishops, 308 bishops,
    7966 parishes, 15,308 priests (7,663 religious, 7,645 secular), 699 permanent
    deacons, 6,772 major seminarians, 2181 brothers, 36,028 sisters, 133,680,000
    Catholics (86.9% of the population).

    Compare this to 34 archdioceses and 157 dioceses in the U.S., 11 cardinals,
    64 archbishop, and 371 bishops. The United States has 60,280,454 Catholics
    (22.8% of the population), 49,009 priests, 19,726 parishes, 89,125 sisters,
    6,357 brothers, and 7,562 permanent deacons.

    Worldwide the Catholic Church has 539 archdioceses, 1,908 dioceses,
    807 archbishops, 3,267 bishops, and 404,461 priests to attend 975,937,000

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