At the press conference on Monday, October 14 Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican dicastery for communication, was asked why updated statistical data have not been released on the religious affiliation of inhabitants of the Amazon, seeing the impetuous growth of the Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches, at the expense of the Catholic Church.
Ruffini replied that all the information in the possession of the Vatican offices has been made available to the accredited journalists, and that in any case the synod has to address rather more important questions than statistical data on religious affiliation.
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In the second part of his response, Ruffini is contradicted by the synod fathers themselves, or at least by some of them. In order to intuit, in fact, to what extent the erosion of the Catholic presence in the region touches the heart of the synod on the Amazon and is a question not of statistics but of faith, it should suffice to cite what was maintained by one of the guests of Pope Francis, Fr. Martín Lasarte, head of missionary outreach in Africa and Latin America for the Salesian congregation to which he belongs and with direct experience of the Amazon, who spoke before the assembly on the morning of Saturday, October 12:
“I visited a diocese, where 95% of the population were Catholics in the early 1980s; today they are 20%. I remember the comment of one of the European missionaries who systematically ‘dis-evangelized’ the region: ‘We do not favour superstition, but human dignity’. That says it all. The Church in some places has turned into a great services manager (health, education, promotional, advocacy…), but little in the mother of faith.”
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In the first part of his response, however, Ruffini was right. In effect, on October 3 the Vatican press office sent the accredited journalists a link to a voluminous dossier in Spanish and Portuguese on the “realidad ecclesial y socioambiental” of the region, prepared in view of the synod by the REPAM, the Red Eclesial Panamazónica set up in 2014 and headed by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes:
And it had escaped Settimo Cielo that in the dossier, almost entirely dedicated to social and environmental questions, on page 35 there appears a graphic with the presence percentages in the Amazon of various non-Catholic denominations.
Here they are, in decreasing order of size:
With 5 percent of the total population:
Testigos de Jehová
With 4 percent each:
Iglesia Adventista del Séptimo Día
Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica
With 3 percent:
Asamblea de Dios
With 2 percent each:
Iglesia de los Santos de los Últimos Días
Iglesia Cristiana Pentecostés del Movimiento Misionero Mundial
Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios
Iglesia Cristiana de Restauración
Otras Iglesias Evangélicas
With 1 percent each:
Iglesia Pentecostal Unida de Colombia
Iglesia de Dios Ministerial de Jesucristo Internacional
On the whole, these 14 non-Catholic denominations make up a third of the population of the Amazon, 33 percent.
In a note next to the graphic, however, it is specified that to these must be added “Otras Iglesias Cristianas” – almost half of which are “iglesias únicas que no tienen relación aparente entre sí” – which together add up to another 13 percent.
In all, therefore – according to the “Atlas Panamazónico” of the REPAM – fully 46 percent of the 34 million inhabitants of the region have in recent decades abandoned the Catholic Church to switch to other religious denominations.
The case of Brazil as a whole is just as startling. In the official census that is conducted each decade in that country, in 1970 Catholics were 91.8 percent of the population, while in the 2010 census they were just 64.6 percent, and in next year’s census it is expected that they will be less than half.
Already today, in fact, given that 46 percent of Brazilians have switched – as in the Amazon – to non-Catholic denominations and that another 10-12 percent is made up of animists, agnostics, etc., those remaining faithful to the Catholic Church would make up little more than 40 percent of the population.
And no turnaround is foreseen for the near future. Unless the synod for the Amazon is able to identify the reasons for this disaster and undertake “new paths” of evangelization, the real kind.
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