[Paleopsych] NYT: Third World Represents a New Factor in Pope's Succession
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The New York Times > International > International Special > Third
World Represents a New Factor in Pope's Succession
By LYDIA POLGREEN and LARRY ROHTER
LAGOS, Nigeria, April 3 - In the modest sanctuary of the Church of
the Assumption here, there is no glint of stained glass, just cheap
frosted louvers to let the breeze in. The Stations of the Cross are
not painted by the hand of a Renaissance master. They are rendered in
simple wood carvings hung on the wall.
Yet it is here, not in the sumptuous cathedrals of Europe, that the
future of the Roman Catholic faith lies, said the Rev. Francis
Anyanwu, pastor at the church.
"Here in Africa the church is growing, vibrant, alive," Father Anyanwu
said as he waited to deliver the benediction after two hours of prayer
on Friday night for Pope John Paul II as he lay on his deathbed. "By
the grace of God our flock is strong."
As the conclave of cardinals assembles to choose a successor to the
pope, the strength of the Roman Catholic Church in Africa, Latin
America and other developing lands, where two-thirds of Catholics now
live, is sure to be a factor in those deliberations.
Though only a third of the cardinal electors are from developing
countries, representatives from Latin America will outnumber those
from Italy. Several Latin American cardinals have been mentioned as
possible successors to John Paul II, and a Nigerian cardinal, Francis
Arinze, is frequently cited as a papal candidate.
"Why not an African pope?" the Rev. Julius Olaitan, administrator of
Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos, said after a dawn Mass on Saturday. "We
have played second fiddle for so long, but now the church has found
its roots in Africa."
The feeling for a pope from the developing world may be even more
pronounced in Latin America, which has the highest concentration of
Roman Catholics in the world.
Some feel that a leader like Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of São Paulo,
Brazil, also mentioned as a possible successor, could revitalize a
church that has been steadily losing ground to Pentecostalism and
other evangelical sects that particularly since the 1990's have taken
the developing world by storm. "Aside from being a great honor, it
would really be advantageous to have someone who truly speaks our
language and comes out of a Latin American experience," Marcelo
Lisboa, a 65-year-old retiree, said Sunday morning after Mass in Rio
"I think it would draw people back into the church," he said, "because
even though Latin America has so many Catholics, most people don't go
to Mass, and it would certainly help brake the advance of all these
Pentecostalism has made great gains in Africa, too, but the
competition here is frequently for millions of souls who are up for
grabs and arrive at Christianity from animist and other traditional
faiths, though it bumps up against Islam, too.
The Catholic Church in Africa has in fact enjoyed its fair share of
the religious fervor that has swept Africa in the last century, a
spiritual frenzy that saw the percentage of Africans practicing
Christianity soar to nearly half of the continent's 900 million
inhabitants, from just 9 percent.
Today the Catholic Church in Africa claims nearly 150 million
adherents, 20 million in Nigeria alone, according to the Center for
the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological
Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.
Yet in Africa and Latin America alike, the Catholic Church also faces
steep challenges, primarily from the Pentecostal wave that has drawn
millions with its energetic, all-night-revival style of worship and
its promises of material as well as spiritual riches, especially among
the deeply impoverished.
Once an active force in the lives of many poor people in Latin America
when the liberation theology movement dominated in the 1970's and
1980's, the church under Pope John Paul II became an increasingly
conservative force and, in the view of some, less involved in the
everyday concerns of the poor.
In Africa the church occasionally found itself compromised in the
continent's complicated and bloody wars. In Rwanda, priests and nuns
were accused and in some cases convicted of aiding the Hutu
perpetuators of the genocide against the minority Tutsi in 1994.
But those challenges pale in comparison with the decades of stagnation
and declining church attendance in Europe and the United States, and
many see the future of the church as lying in the developing world.
In many developed nations, including deeply Catholic ones like
Ireland, the pope's firm stands against divorce, abortion,
homosexuality and birth control have to some extent alienated
populations whose views on such issues have loosened.
But particularly in Africa, where the church is looking to grow and
families have been devastated by AIDS, it is precisely those
conservative doctrines that endeared the pope to a new generation of
"The Holy Father has stood up for traditional values, and those are
the same as African values," said Marie Fatayi-Williams, who came to
pray for the pope at the Church of the Assumption on Friday night. "We
believe in family, in life, in the sanctity of marriage. There is no
controversy about such things here."
Indeed, if his conservative message grated on the ears of the European
and American faithful, the pope also preached eloquently about the
dignity of suffering and the value of each human life, a message that
seemed to answer Africa's needs in a tumultuous quarter-century of
unceasing war, cycles of famine and death and the devastation of AIDS.
In upholding conservative values, his teachings fit neatly into the
deeply held traditional mores that dominate most African societies. He
visited Africa again and again, drawing huge, adoring crowds. Even
among non-Catholics he was beloved.
"On a continent where suffering is a fact of daily life, he is an
inspiration and a guide," said Henry Akinwunmiho, 50, an elementary
school teacher who arrived at the Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos on
Saturday before dawn to pray for the pope.
At the parish, Father Olaitan said that just as a Polish pope was the
right man to meet the great political shift of the last generation,
the end of the cold war, an African or Latin American pope could be
just what the church needed to secure its future in the new
"Pope John Paul II knew what an evil Communism was, and he helped
stamp it out in this world," Father Olaitan said. "It could be that a
pope from Africa or Latin America could stamp out our generation's
evils - extreme poverty, ethnic strife and disease - and transform
Africa just as the Holy Father transformed the rest of the world."
John Paul's conservative message also transformed the church in Latin
America, even as its position eroded with the growth of boisterous new
Protestant churches whose unmediated style of worship - employing
healings, speaking in tongues and casting out demons - and use of
television drew millions of believers.
No country has a larger Catholic population than Brazil, for instance,
and at the start of John Paul II's papacy more than 90 percent of
Brazilians considered themselves Catholic. By the time of the last
census in 2000, just under three-quarters of Brazil's 180 million
people declared themselves so, while Brazil's Protestant population
More than 25 million Brazilians now belong to evangelical and
Pentecostal churches, leading some Protestant pastors to predict that
the country will have a Protestant majority within 25 years.
"I don't know if Brazil can continue to be as Catholic a country as it
has traditionally been," said Waldo César, a Brazilian sociologist of
religion who is a Lutheran. "There is still a lot of room for
Protestantism to grow. Poverty and internal migration are not slowing,
and they feed this phenomenon."
Across the rest of Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, much the
same thing is happening. Even fervent Catholics acknowledge that the
church has been slow to respond to the challenge, something that
leaders in Rome may now seek more aggressively to reverse.
It will not be easy. The Roman Catholic Church today finds itself
hamstrung by a shortage of clergy that seems to be grow each year.
Vocations among young Brazilians are not enough to make up the gap.
Fewer Europeans and Americans, a big source of priests in the past,
are available, with the result that many communities in the arid
backlands and the Amazon see a priest only every couple of months or
Belatedly, after years in which John Paul centralized authority in
Rome, the Catholic Church in Latin America has responded with a
movement known as charismatic renewal, which has used rock-style hymns
and borrowed Pentecostal thunder by incorporating Bible readings and
even speaking in tongues.
"Our liturgy is expansive and creative, foreseeing a high degree of
popular participation," said the Rev. Pedro Félix Bassini, director of
pastoral outreach for Brazil's National Conference of Roman Catholic
Bishops. "There are certain norms and basic principles, but we are not
saying that you have to be this or that. We're leaving it up to each
bishop to provide an orientation."
In other dioceses, bishops have sought ways to reach an accommodation
with Candomblé and Macumba, Afro-Brazilian cults that are similar to
voodoo and Santería and have millions of followers.
At the start of John Paul II's papacy, the church had similarly been
trying to adjust to changing social and political conditions in Latin
America with liberation theology.
Drawing freely on Marxism for its "preferential option for the poor,"
the movement aimed at involving priests more in the daily concerns of
parishioners and transforming what were seen as unjust structures that
perpetuated inequality and poverty.
But with his experience living under a Marxist-Leninist government,
John Paul II quickly showed himself to be skeptical of the approach
and doubtful of its doctrinal foundations. In an emblematic moment
during a Central America trip in the 1980's, he wagged his finger in
admonition at priests in Nicaragua who had aligned themselves with the
Sandinista revolution. All over Latin America, when bishops
sympathetic to liberation theology retired they were replaced by
priests who were not.
Today the cardinal of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, 61, is a member
of the ultraconservative Opus Dei movement who believes that the
church needs to confine itself to a more narrow, traditional role. He
was appointed to his post by John Paul II in 2001 with an eye on what
kind of legacy the pope would leave.
Lydia Polgreen reported from Lagos for this article, and Larry Rohter
from Rio de Janeiro.
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