The story so far … Intrepid reporter Tintin, accompanied by his faithful fox terrier Snowy, has travel to Brazil to report on the preparations for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day celebrations in July. Upon his arrival Tintin finds the natives have abandoned their base communities and liberation theology for Catholic Pentecostalism. Who is behind this tragedy? Soviets, American gangsters, Jews? Can our hero rescue the church from the clutches of charismatics in Brazil?
I write in jest — this disclaimer is for the perpetually offended — nevertheless a recent story from AFP, Agency France Presse, entitled “Brazil Charismatic priests try to stem Catholic flight” could easily be transformed into a comic.
There is a cartoonish, condescending quality to this article that perpetuates anti-Catholic, anti-Pentecostal stereotypes. It does not rise to the level of Hergé’s “Tintin in the Congo“, but that was merely an 80-year old comic — this is a news story that does a second rate job in reporting on one of the major religion news stories of modern times — the rise of and reaction to Pentecostalism.
The article begins with a soft focus:
AFP – In a scene out of a pop music concert, mass at Sao Paulo’s huge Mae de Deus (Mother of God) church features spirited singing, dancing and shouting led by priests of Brazil’s rising Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. About 6,000 faithful are seated and thousands more are standing, all waiting for the master of ceremonies and face of the movement — 46-year-old rock star Catholic priest Marcelo Rossi. With his broad smile and movie-actor good looks, the 6’4″ (1m90) former gymnast and his musicians warm up the crowd.
The article moves on to a report on church statistics and then offers comments from those who like the “rock-star” priest and a description of a service:
“Father Marcelo is charismatic and humble. You come once and you keep on coming,” said 72-year-old Olga Ribeiro, who has been following him for the past six years. “It’s a modern, dynamic mass. I had stopped going to church because I was bored,” said 58-year-old Luis Fernando Camentori.
In the middle of the service, lights go off and candles are lit. Many of the faithful burst into tears. “God will turn your pain into joy,” Rossi tells the delirious crowd. The wildly popular Rossi has already sold millions of records and books. He has his own radio and television programs, has made movies and is very active on Twitter. He has just criss-crossed the country to promote his latest book “Kairos”. In less than a month, 500,000 copies were already sold.
At this stage we hear from the experts:
“The Church in Brazil has been in crisis since the 1990s with the decline of leftist liberation theology, and its churches are becoming empty,” said Magali Cunha, a theology professor at Sao Paulo Methodist University. … While it has so far failed to stop Brazil’s Catholic exodus, “without this type of spirituality, the Catholic Church would have lost even more members,” said Edin Abumansur, head of the religion sciences department at Sao Paulo Catholic University.
The AFP’s editorial voice emerges:
And Catholic Charismatic Renewal is resorting to an arsenal of gimmicks to lure followers, including raw emotionalism, masses for cures, blessings to secure jobs or corporal expressions of faith.