La Nación on soccer and Protestantism in Brazil

Sitting in my “guilt file” of stories I should be covering — but have not yet gotten round to doing — is this fascinating piece from the sports section of La Nación, the Argentine daily. (With its larger rival Clarín, the two dailies make up almost half of the Buenos Aires newspaper market — as to their editorial stance, neither supports the government of President Cristina Kirchner).

The article “Historias mínimas sobre la selección de Brasil y la religión: de la peregrinación de Scolari al pastor visionario de Neymar” from the July 7 edition reports on the links between Christian faith and the members of Brazil’s world cup team.

The subtitle sets the theme of the story: “Es el país con mayor cantidad de cristianos del mundo y que atraviesa un fuerte crecimiento de los evangelistas; ¿cómo es la relación de los futbolistas con la Fe?”

[Brazil] has the largest number of Christians of any country in the world and that through a strong growth of evangelists. What is the relationship between soccer players and the faith?

The key sentence in this story: “Soccer and religion are twin pillars of Brazilian life.”

Yet in telling this story, La Nación makes an error found in American newspapers — confusing evangelist with evangelical — and further states Brazil has the largest Christian population in the world. (It does not.)

The article follows a traditional sports-human interest story line. It begins with a description of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s visit to the Church of Our Lady of Caravoggio in Rio Grande do Sul a few days before the start of a World Cup, and notes he had made a similar pilgrimage in 2002 and 2013. The coach is quoted as saying his team counts on hard work and the blessings of faith to see them through to victory.

Also, Pope Francis’ farewell to Brazil following his visit last year is cited to underscore the links between faith and football.

In Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Well, what does a player when he is called to be part of a team? Must train and train a lot. So it is in our life as disciples of the Lord. St. Paul tells us: “Every athlete exercises all, and they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we do it for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25) Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup. He offers us the possibility of a fruitful and happy life, and a future with him without end, eternal life.

The scene shifts to the soccer pitch, where instances of prayer after key plays is recounted closing with a quote from one player following his game winning goal against Colombia: “I’ve been practicing a year at Chelsea. Knew that one day God would bless me.”

[Read more...]

Brazil’s faith in football: What happens after the apocalypse?

If you know anything about the sport the world calls “football,” then you know that an apocalyptic event took place yesterday in Brazil.

If you know anything at all about the host nation for the 2014 World Cup, then you know — everyone chant the mantra together — that football is the true religion of Brazil. Here is a typical blast of this faith language, drawn from today’s Los Angeles Times piece about Germany’s 7-1 shredding of what is left of this year’s battered Brazilian team.

It had been 64 years since Brazil staged a World Cup at home. And in a country so passionate about the sport it is worshipped like a religion, even now that 1950 final loss to Uruguay is remembered as a national tragedy.

This year’s team, though, was expected to erase that stain. And when the Brazilian government lavished a record $11.5 billion on the preparations for this World Cup, the pressure on the national team increased. A World Cup title was seen as the only way to justify the cost. So hundreds of fans began gathering daily outside the gates of the team’s training facility while hundreds more lined the roads when the team’s bus would pass.

All of them were seeking deliverance as much as they were a championship.

Finally, if you know anything about football in Brazil, if you have watched any of the national team’s matches over the past decade or more, then you know that many members of the team are outspoken Christians. In fact, several of the young superstars are part of the emerging face of born-again and Pentecostal Protestantism in this historically Catholic nation.

In a fine feature before the Germany match, BBC covered the essential facts and added some color, as well. The first statement is crucial:

[Read more...]

NPR: true tolerance=open marriages

I’m just catching up on some email but last week a former reporter submitted a story for review with the note “You must do a GR post about the unbelievable NPR story today by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on an excommunicated Catholic priest. It’s insane.” He wasn’t the only one. Other reporters and readers also noticed it as particularly deserving of a GetReligion glance.

It’s kind of like if The Onion did a parody of all of those bad Roman Catholic WomenPriests stories we have fun with. It begins:


Today, in Brazil, Pope Francis led the first public Mass of his first international trip. He travelled to a basilica that is deeply symbolic for Brazil’s Catholics. In a sermon, Francis spoke of helping the young turn away from what he called the idols of money, success, power, pleasure. He addressed thousands who had waited in the rain for his arrival.

Throughout the Pope’s Brazil trip, he has been greeted with excited throngs, but also protests.


SIEGEL: This past Monday, in Rio, pro-gay marriage activists mounted a bare-breasted demonstration. Same-sex unions have become a big issue in the region. NPR’s Lourdes Garcia Navarro has this profile of a rebel priest whose message of tolerance got him excommunicated.

Emphasis mine. So, what tolerant message got this “rebel priest” excommunicated? You’ll want to read on to find out! You really need to read the full transcript (or affiliated story) to get the full beauty of this particular piece, but we learn from correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro that Roberto Francisco Daniel “looks cooler than your typical priest.” His doctrinal deviations included opposing church teaching on homosexuality, of course, but also:

DANIEL: (Through translator) The Catholic Church is one of hypocrisy, and because of what I heard in the confessional, I decided to engage in the debate.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto not only believes in gay marriage, but is in favor of divorce and of open marriages where either party can have an extramarital affair as long as husband and wife agree… Equally, he says, how can we, in this day and age, expect people to be chaste before matrimony?

DANIEL: (Through translator) I would have young people in their 20s confessing as if it were sinful that they had sexual relations with the person they were going to marry before they said vows. Sex is the most natural thing in the world. How can someone get married without first knowing their partner sexually? That’s absurd nowadays. The church is more worried about genitalia than human life.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto was repeatedly warned by the church to stop making his views public, to recant and repent. Things had become so tense he had decided to resign his ministry. But his superiors beat him to it. A few months ago, without warning, they convened an ecclesiastical hearing where he was informed that he was being excommunicated.

DANIEL: (Through interpreter) It never even crossed my mind that they would excommunicate me.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto says he fell foul of the ultraconservative elements in the church who were outraged by his opinions. He says, though, since he’s been stripped of his priestly duties, he’s gotten a lot of support in the community. He is still a devout Catholic, he says, who stands by his priestly vows. But in many ways, he is now freer to voice his opinions.

Wait, what? What? What?

[Read more...]

Pod people: About those photo ops in Brazil’s slums

YouTube Preview Image

Here a photo op, there a photo op, everywhere a papal photo op.

The question explored in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast is not whether all of those media-friendly events during World Youth Day are, in fact, “photo ops” — chances for Pope Francis to be photographed making the kinds of symbolic gestures for which he (and the soon to be John Paul the Great) is already famous.

Of course, these are photo ops. Michelle Obama visiting an inner-city vegetable garden is a photo op, too. This is a part of leadership in a visual, 24/7 cable age.

The question Todd Wilken and I explored this past week (click here to listen to that) is whether or not these events — which are almost always directly linked to formal or informal papal remarks/texts — are MERELY photo ops or events that often contain a doctrinal level of content that is linked to newsworthy subjects.

What are we talking about?

A reader cited a perfect example of this syndrome the other day, drawn from coverage in The Los Angeles Times:

“Thousands of young pilgrims filled a rainy Copacabana beach to attend a series of religious-themed concerts that were part of World Youth Day, which, despite the name, is a five-day event that began Tuesday and is ostensibly the reason for the pope’s visit to Brazil.”

Commenting on an earlier World Youth Day post, reader Martha O’Keefe remarked:

I love that “ostensibly”; sure, ‘the Vatican’ says he’s there because of this event, but that’s only a coincidence! Why is he really in Brazil? Who can say, maybe he felt like a holiday?

Yes, that is the key word. And what, pray tell, does “ostensible” mean?

os·ten·si·ble — adjective …

(1) intended for display: open to view

(2) being such in appearance: plausible rather than demonstrably true or real — the ostensible purpose for the trip


When John Paul — wrestling against the doubting Vatican powers that be — first created World Youth Day, he wasn’t actually (from his point of view) trying to make a case for faith and social action in the confused spiritual ocean that is the postmodern age?

He wasn’t trying to recruit young men and women for worship and service in the church, especially young men for the priesthood and women and men into religious life?

He wasn’t, knowing that he lives in a visual age, trying to create living symbols that would speak — even heroically — to the young?

The pope is “ostensibly” at World Youth Day to, well, talk to young people and, on a second level, to the complex world of Latin American Catholicism?

Of course, there are political implications. That is part of the story. Part. Of.

Of course, these are symbolic photo ops. But is that all that they are?

And the arguments that he is making to the faithful: Is it possible to cover the actual content of his remarks without including any of the explicitly Christian material that is at the heart of his sermons, at the heart of his visit?

Then there is the issue of this particular pope’s past history.

[Read more...]

Hearing Francis through the ears of politics

We believe only what we want to believe, George Orwell observed in 1945. “So far as I can see,” he wrote in the Partisan Review:

[A]ll political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome. … I believe that it is possible to be more objective than most of us are, but that it involves a moral effort. One cannot get away from one’s own subjective feelings, but at least one can know what they are and make allowance for them.

George Orwell, “London Letter”Partisan Review (Winter, 1945)

Orwell’s theory of subjectivity is being tested by reporters covering Francis’ trip to Brazil. While the pope has been spared predictions his trip will be a disaster — a press theme peddled in the run up to Benedict’s trips to Germany, the UK and Mexico subsequently proven wrong each time — the reporting I have seen so far from Brazil has tended to confirm Orwell’s dictum.

Take The Guardian‘s account of the pope’s activities on July 23, for example. The article entitled “Pope in Brazil warns against legalising drugs” summarizes comments made by Francis at a Rio drug rehabilitation clinic and his sermon earlier that day before 200,000 pilgrims at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida. The Guardian does not focus on what Francis said, but on the political ramifications of what it heard him say. Hearing only politics The Guardian was deaf to the true story.

The article opens with:

Pope Francis entered political waters on Wednesday with a sharply worded condemnation of moves to legalise drug use. His comments, which were made during a visit to a rehabilitation centre in Brazil, run counter to a growing movement in Latin America to liberalise sales of marijuana and other narcotics following decades of a murderous and largely ineffectual war against drugs in the region.

The article quotes Francis views on the evils of drug abuse and offers background on the politics of narcotics law reform in South America and then transitions to the sermon at the Basilica.

Earlier on Wednesday Francis urged Catholics to resist the “ephemeral idols” of money, power, success and pleasure during his first mass in Brazil. He made no direct mention of the inequality and corruption that have sparked nationwide protests. In a sermon to a congregation of thousands at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida, the pontiff appealed to the faithful to focus on non-material values of spiritualism, generosity, solidarity and perseverance.

A quote is offered from the sermon followed by analysis and background.

Vatican officials say the pontiff asked for the mass at the basilica, which is 160 miles (260km) from his base in Rio, to be added to his schedule. Built in 1955 with a capacity of 40,000, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida – the principal patroness of Brazil and a unifying figure for many in the nation’s Catholic Church. It is the site of pilgrimage for millions every year who flock to see an apparently dark-skinned statue of the Virgin Mary which, myth has it, was found in two parts by fishermen in 1717.

[Read more...]

Pope trip: Time to play ‘spot the political sound bite’

YouTube Preview Image

The pope is abroad. This means, of course, that it is time to look at the papal texts — Vatican site here — and play a mainstream media game that can accurately be called “spot the political sound bite.”

The key to this game is that, no matter why the pope is traveling to a particular region and speaking to a particular audience, it must be assumed that the lasting impact of his trip will be related to real life in the real world, which for all too many journalists means politics. Period.

Now, it is possible that, should the pope address a social and cultural issue that is related to public life, journalists have a chance to discuss theology and politics at the same time. If this is the case, then the goal of the game is to stress that the pope is expressing HIS MERE OPINION of the issues at hand, as opposed to restating church ancient church teachings that have been reaffirmed through the ages.

Remember, the pope and other members of the hierarchy play have no unique, authoritative role to play in Catholic life. His point of view is only as important as the latest opinion poll in which he is out voted by the views of millions of cultural Catholics who rarely kneel at Catholic altars or go to (heavens!) confession.

So, it’s day one in Brazil for Pope Francis, a mold-shattering pope from Latin America who certainly knows a thing or two about this rapidly changing part of the world. The trip, of course, centers on events in World Youth Day. And the lede in The New York Times focuses on real life:

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pope Francis arrived in Brazil on Monday for his first international trip as pontiff, treading carefully and in ascetic style in a nation where antigovernment protests have recently shaken a privileged political hierarchy, which faces withering criticism in the streets over claims of incompetence and abuse of power.

“Let me knock gently at this door,” the Argentine-born pope, 76, said in a brief address delivered entirely in Portuguese to his hosts, including President Dilma Rousseff and Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro. “I ask permission to come in and spend this week with you.”

Francis sidestepped the issue of Brazil’s protests in his first public remarks here, emphasizing instead the importance of youth evangelization.

OK, I’ll bite. What did the pope have to say about youth evangelization? What did he have to say about the purpose of his trip, since we are told that he emphasized that topic?

Sorry, wrong news source for that kind of subject. Try looking over here.

Now, to be truthful, the Times team did — high up in the story — mention at least one crucial topic other than the possible political implications of the Jesuit pope’s trip.

When it comes to religion and demographics, Brazil is at the heart of dizzying, stunning changes in this region. Click here for an essential package of data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. A taste of that reality actually made it into this report:

[Read more...]