Latin America: How To Stop Losing
The Wall Street Journal has written an article about the exodus of Catholics in Latin America. Whilst I think there is much worse around than the Wall Street Journal, I thought I would give my perspective on the issue.
The WSJ seems to identify some issues behind the loss of Catholics in South America, namely the fact that the Protestants a) are more directly concerned about solidarity, for example with distribution of beans and rice, b) are better at organising free time activities like soccer clubs, and c) are better at offering a “personal relationship with Jesus”, a typical – if wrong – Protestant “selling point”.
I will agree that solidarity is important. In Italy, for example, what the WSJ mentions has always been part and parcel of “being” Catholic. I am not sure that this should be much different in Latin America.
Similarly, in the Italy of my youth – and in the Italy of several generations before mine – the parish-sponsored sport activity has always been big. The soccer field near the church has always been a common trait of Italian communities, and the parish were directly involved in sports activity. It is not clear to me what has changed in that.
The “relationship with Jesus” part lead us, in my eyes, much nearer to the real issue: Catholics leave the Church when a) they have been poorly instructed and b) the local clergy fails to give them the spiritual nourishment they crave.
The Church has a wonderful, extremely involving, absolutely beautiful, wildly successful spiritual patrimony to give to his faithful, even including their prayer life and “personal relationship with Jesus. But this patrimony must be cherished, must be properly transmitted, and must be believed in the first place. A priest interested in social justice, striving to be “cool”, afraid of looking “stuffy”, and perhaps even plagued by spiritual issues of his own is a recipe for disaster.
One of the things I do whenever I see a new priest celebrating Mass is having some fun – in the midst of the penance and suffering that is attending a Novus Ordo Mass – trying to gauge whether the guy believes in God. Several times I have come to the conclusion that the guy gives the impression of not believing in God. More than a couple of times I have come to the conclusion that the guy is deeply troubled in much, much worse ways than being uncertain in his faith. It is no surprise that, confronted with such shepherds and badly instructed in the first place, Catholics would leave for ecclesial communities promising a deeper, fruitful, fulfilling religious experience.
Father Pablo, who always talks of social justice and his fears of seeing the ocean levels rise, will see his attendance numbers sink. Father Pedro, who always sounds like his voice is just a tad too shrill, will soon discover that Catholics want their pastor manly. Father Gonzalo, whose masses resemble a circus for the under nine years old, will notice in time that his children, once grown up, consider him nothing more than a nice kindergarten clown.
Catholicism is restored by being Catholic. There is nothing wrong with the recipe. The problem is with the bad cooks who don’t follow it. In order to stop losing, it is necessary to embrace Catholic tradition in everything.
Proper liturgy, proper catechism, proper militancy, proper attitude. This is how you reverse the destiny of Catholicism in South America. It’s not even about beans, or soccer, important as these side activities might be.
In the end, it is always about how one treats both the Bridegroom and the Bride.