Cardinal Poupard Suggests Why Evangelicals Have Made Inroads

President of Pontifical Council for Culture Addresses Meeting in Brazil

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JOAO PESSOA, Brazil, OCT. 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The growth of sects, especially in Brazil, is a call to the Church not to impose but to propose, says Cardinal Paul Poupard.



The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture was analyzing some of the challenges posed by the spread of fundamentalist evangelical groups in the country.

He spoke Monday at the opening of the meeting of Catholic Cultural Centers of Brazil, in Joao Pessoa, on "Catholic Identity, Globalization, Unbelief and Ethnic Pluralism." The meeting shifts to Sao Paulo on Thursday.

In his talk, Cardinal Poupard addressed two of the key causes of the growth of the fundamentalists: "transnational economic and political interests," as well as the lack of religious identity of modern and postmodern societies.

"It is no surprise to anyone that religion is the first bond of social cohesion. A weakening of this bond of identity makes possible a confrontation with a culturally spent, politically docile and economically inoffensive neighbor," he said.

"In this connection, sects are the earthly advance of the North American cultural model," he told the participants in the meeting of Catholic Cultural Centers, organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Brazilian bishops' conference.

However, the cardinal added, "the Catholic faith not only is a majority religion in Latin America, it is the profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnation, where neither racism, predestination, Monroe's nationalism, eugenics, nor any form of economic liberalism can be justified as the way of salvation."

"One might think that to be a strong nation it is necessary to return to Christianity or at least to 'religious fundamentalism,'" he said, explaining the political motives hidden behind the sects.

The success of the sects lies in the sociological proclamation of the Gospel, particularly attractive in Latin America, a society characterized by economic injustices, he said at this unprecedented meeting of Brazilian Catholic Cultural Centers.

In fact, the "social accent of change justly desired, made the Church express her original option for the poor, an option that some understand as 'exclusively sociological' and not as 'preferentially evangelical.' From this exclusive option for the poor was generated the idea that the poor should opt for the sects," Cardinal Poupard said.

"This is the game and this is the snare of the sects and of the blurred interests that maintain them," he continued. "In proclaiming the Gospel in a sociological note, it would seem that a paradox is opened: Either one chooses the poor, exclusively and socially, and they will leave one confessionally; or one choose injustice and one has already ceased to proclaim the Gospel."

"What is at stake? Are our 'interests' the same as those of the centers of power that subsidize and direct the sects?" he asked. "If they are the same, let us then leave the client to choose the product that is most suitable to his 'religious' needs. However, if our interests are not political and economic, what are they?"

"Is not the motor that moves the mission to evangelize the same as that which moves the Catholic identity?" the cardinal asked.

The second factor that explains the growth of sects is the religious reality of the present generations, characterized by lack of identity, the Vatican official said.

"However, the present strength of the sects is to present a precise identity at a time of uncertainties. And, what is this identity? No less than a negation: 'not to be Catholics,'" he observed.

"If the followers of sects were to try to penetrate their identity seriously, they would discover with surprise that their original religious experience, is copying in a clumsy way the structure of the Church they have criticized," the cardinal continued. "Its alleged identity, its doctrinal originality, as well as its religious proposal, are but the expression of uneasiness before their own ignorance or the pastoral neglect of the Church they attack."

"This affirmation reinforces the hypothesis that sects are born necessarily in a context where there is already an established confessional identity, more or less explicit, and before which, the sectarian response establishes itself as true and pure confessional identity," the cardinal explained.

"Might not these responses be a call to submerge ourselves in the identity of our Catholic faith?" he asked. "The sects are a call to be pastorally and culturally propositional. The new evangelization seeks to read man's desires in the culture of his time. To the hunger for identity and destiny corresponds the bread of defined and certain faith."

"Sects make evident that a language of social ethical imposition is not accepted in the religious categories of the man of today," Cardinal Poupard stated.

"The fact that they do not identify with social work, does not mean that they won't do so later," he added. "It means, unfortunately, that the first contact they have had with the gratuitousness and transcendence of God, they have not received from the Church; from her, many of them received only imperatives, rules and commitments to action, but never the proclamation of Salvation in a language they could accept."