BRAZIL – 28 seminarians being trained to combat the challenge of proliferating sects
Brazil still holds onto its place as the most populous Catholic nation on earth, yet the percentage of Catholics in the country continues to fall. Today only around 72% of the more than 190 million Brazilians still declare themselves Catholics, though the exact figures quoted very widely. What is however clear is that this number is declining drastically.
A myriad of sects and Pentecostalist churches have sprung up and continue to proliferate. They seduce people with unrealistic promises of rapid wealth, health or the fulfilment of their dreams. There are over 35,000 of these “free churches“ by now.
Many people fall an easy prey to their promises, especially the disillusioned and uprooted people in the shantytowns on the edges of the big cities. Many of them have come here from areas of the northeast of the country afflicted by years of drought, being unable to feed their families there. Their hopes and dreams of a better life in the big city have been bitterly disappointed, however. After spending the last of their money travelling to the hoped-for “promised land“, they can count themselves lucky if they find work as refuse collectors. Most in fact end up unemployed and sink into a vicious spiral of family breakup, addiction, alcoholism and violence.
Hence the Catholic Church is faced with massive challenges, above all since – in relation to the size of the country and the still very large number of the Catholic faithful – there are far too few priests. The parishes are often huge, with many having up to 100,000 parishioners, so one of the biggest challenges for the local Church is the promotion of vocations. “Leave a parish for 20 years without a priest, and they‘ll start worshipping the animals there. The priest is not a priest for himself, he is for you“, the holy Curé of Ars, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney once tellingly warned of the danger. And blunt though his statement may be, it does exactly apply to the problem facing the Church in Brazil today. For where there are no priests, the people are easily drawn away by the sects.
In the diocese of Marìlia in the state of São Paulo there are 28 young men currently preparing for ordination to the priesthood. The diocese is huge, covering an area of almost 4,700 square miles (11,980 km²), and is divided into 61 parishes. 729,000 Catholic faithful live here, so that on average each parish has close on 12,000 parishioners. Yet there are just 57 diocesan priests working here so every new vocation is greatly needed.
But the young men training at the seminary must not just be priests, but good priests, and so they need to receive not only a solid academic formation but also be intensively prepared and accompanied on the spiritual and human plane. At the same time they gain real practical insight into pastoral work by visiting the parishes and the Catholic social care centres and institutions, making themselves useful and acquiring real hands-on experience. We are supporting the diocese with 7,000 Euros towards the cost of their formation.