Pope Bets on 'Charismatic Catholicism' in LatAm

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/03/2014 02:00:00 AM
Pope Francis entertains the 50,000.
The Latin faithful have always been a troublesome bunch for the Roman Catholic Church. Starting from the 1970s, the emergence of liberation theology [1, 2, 3, 4]--Jesus Christ's mission cast as a Marxist emancipatory struggle--was denounced by none other than Pope Benedict XVI when he was still the doctrinal enforcer. After all, how could a godless ideology be compatible with church teaching? While liberation theology is the threat from within, the threat from without has been the rise of charismatic evangelical (read: Protestant) movements who have drawn away large numbers of Catholics with their more personalized and upbeat ["God loves YA"!] message compared to the increasingly staid one of Catholicism. The numbers are not promising for the Catholic faithful in Latin America.

Losing market share from this threat from without, I guess it was only a matter of time that the bigwigs in Rome decided to fight fire with, ah, consuming fire. The (comparatively) young and energetic Pope Francis has been called our "rock star Pope." Hence, it was only a matter of time before he addressed this issue: Why does Catholicism have to be dowdy? Why can't its celebration be set to song and dance like the Protestant evangelical movements? Hence his promotion of an nascent counter-movement, "charismatic Catholicism":
As the church continues to lose members in the region with the world's largest Catholic population, the charismatic movement stands out as a source of hope, not only for fending off the formidable competition of Pentecostal Protestantism but for raising morale among the faithful as a whole.

Though not even half a century old, the movement claims that at least 120 million Catholics in 238 countries have been "baptized in the Holy Spirit," according to a 2012 document published by International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. The movement, which started in the United States, reports fast growth in Asia and Africa. But the world's largest concentration of charismatics today is in Latin America, where 16 percent of Catholics identify themselves as participants...

Although the Catholic charismatic renewal has strong ecumenical roots, and its members have often worshipped together with Pentecostals, it also functions as a vehicle for retaining or winning back Catholics tempted by the Protestant alternative. Like Pentecostalism, charismatic Catholicism emphasizes the Holy Spirit, features faith healing and speaking in tongues and is spread by door-to-door evangelists. But the important roles it gives to Mary and the Eucharist ensure that charismatic devotion has a clear Catholic identity.
The article above also discusses how Pope Francis was a late convert to charismatic Catholicism, viewing it earlier as folks mistaking liturgical celebration for a samba lesson [!] Now, however, it is taken as a visible sign of renewal. This brand of the faith came to mind as Pope Francis just hosted 50,000 charismatic Catholics in a stadium in Rome while delivering the familiar message that the family as an institution is under attack from modernity.

My take is that he recognizes that promoting arch-conservative movements like his predecessors did will not do much to shore up the faith in Latin America. Fight fire with consuming fire, right? It may be old sacramental wine in new bottles, but hey, the implicit argument of Pope Francis is that as long as the attempt at (popular) repackaging doesn't detract from the core contents, then it's perfectly fine.