Catholic Church in Guatemala reeling from Evangelical conversions
Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jun 23, 2009 / 12:35 am (CNA).-
A recent report from a Catholic charity indicates that the Catholic Church in Guatemala is being seriously threatened by the growth of Evangelical sects that try to win converts with offers of money and other goods.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic Charity that works with oppressed and suffering Christians throughout the world, found that half of the people of Guatemala are now Evangelical, and new churches are appearing rapidly.
ACN issued the report after a 17-day trip that included 10 of the country’s 14 dioceses. The report describes how the new Evangelical churches far outnumber Catholic churches.
One example reported by a recent fact-finding trip was a 30-mile-drive through the northern part of the country, which yielded 10 Evangelical chapels or churches and only four Catholic ones.
According to the report, some radical leaders in the country have been bribing the poor to attend their church services, offering food, medicine and jobs. In addition, some Evangelical leaders are targeting the Catholic Church to recruit new members, attacking important Catholic teachings and exaggerating clergy scandals.
The report suggests that this type of recruiting occurs especially in poor areas after natural disasters or during other times in which the people are most affected by poverty and economic need. “It seems that what attracts people to sects is not so much a matter of faith but a matter of economics. It is the promise of getting rich quick,” says the document.
Now, concerns are growing that the Catholic Church in Guatemala may disappear into obscurity, unless efforts are made to prevent the massive numbers of converts to other Christian denominations.
ACN Latin America projects coordinator Xavier Legorreta said that although Guatemala has had strong Evangelical communities for years, the rate of their growth is surprising. “We were shocked by the sheer number of new Evangelical churches that we saw during the trip – they seemed to have mushroomed all over the place,” he said.
The ACN report goes on to talk about the major publicity campaigns being run by the Evangelicals, noting that the sects often receive strong financial backing from wealthy organizations in the United States. With posters and signs across the region, Legorreta believes the Evangelical leaders are getting their message through to the people.
“Everywhere, Evangelical Christianity is being promoted – on television, radio, billboards – even on the front of pharmacies in the main streets,” he said.
In response to the discoveries outlined by the report, ACN is working with the Guatemalan bishops on a plan to print and distribute more Catholic Bibles throughout the country. Legorreta reports that the local bishops are aware of the problem in their country and say they are “ready and waiting to help.”
Recognizing the importance of teaching the Catholic faith clearly, he added, “Bible formation is absolutely key to this – not only in Guatemala but all over the continent.”
Of a number of things that surprise me about this exodus of Guatemalan Catholics to Evangelical sects, the first is the similarity in recruiting strategy used by Catholic missionaries. They too used medicine, food, and occupational education to entice their original indigenous converts. This may be a case of Evangelicals taking up where the Catholic Church dropped the ball. I fail to see how providing Catholic bibles is going to change this trend.
I realize this is a Catholic News Agency article, but I would have liked a lot more information concerning the Church's failures which are fueling this exodus. It can't be just a matter of Evangelical media advertising, and wealthy American backers. That's too facile. I suspect it has a whole lot more to do with Evangelicals practicing a form of home grown ministry with a great deal of community support in a smaller church setting. These are very similar to Catholic base communities, but with one glaring difference. Evangelicals promise heaven on the basis of being saved in Jesus, and Catholicism makes that 'saving' a whole lot more complicated. When one adds the Pentecostals and their spirit driven faith to the Evangelical notions of one shot salvation, Catholicism faces a formidable challenge. This is especially true amongst indigenous poor, whose physical and emotional survival is rooted in their communities. The priest shortage is making it virtually impossible for Catholicism to match this kind of community involvement.
Other authors who are familiar with this situation think the fact the Church has turned in a very conservative direction is adding fuel to the fire. The Church is viewed as having turned it's back on social justice issues, concentrating on quashing liberation theology as more important. This is not to say that liberation theology held the answers. It primarily focused on attacking social structures, rather than transforming them from with in. Pentecostals especially, are all about transforming selves and communities from with in. Whether they have any success is yet to be seen, but there is no question their message is being heard, and in some quarters is perceived to be a threat. It's hard to sell things to people who don't care if they have them. Evangelicals on the other hand do seem to be stressing a Western form of consumerism as indicative of God's favor. Subsequently they seem to be making more inroads into the middle and upper classes.
While we in the North continue to quibble over abortion and gay marriage because we have that luxury, the Church faces it's biggest challenge in Central and South America. It may be that seriously addressing these Southern issues will precipitate the change that the North has been unable to achieve. Maintaining the status quo will also maintain the exodus to Evangelical and Pentecostal sects. So far the Vatican has done little to address the problem. That may change as more and more Latin American bishops watch their flocks dwindle to half of what they once were. I seriously doubt they really think Catholic bibles are the answer. I suspect they are 'ready and willing to help' but they haven't been given the green light they need. They may find out they need to get going anyway or there won't be much left to get going for.
In a side note, I see where Fr. Jenkins has announced that Notre Dame's 1.5 billion dollar capital campaign has reached it's goal two years early. So much for the Cardinal Newman Society's campaign to seriously impact their funding. Needless to say CNA has not reported on this Catholic story.