Voice of Latin America

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, Metropolitan of Tegucigalpy (Honduras).

WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - Latin America is often called 'the Catholic continent' because the majority of Catholics in the world live there. What is the situation of the Catholic Church in Latin America (Cardinal Maradiaga is the most competent person to talk about this because he has worked in the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), and in the years 1995-99 he was its president)?

CARDINAL OSCAR ANDRES RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA: - Latin America is a continent of hope, which is inhabited by one big Catholic community. We call our continent 'Catholic' because its majority has been baptised. Unfortunately, due to lack of proper catechisation and religious education not all those who were baptised have the possibility to grow in faith. Our biggest challenge is to make this 'baptised' continent a truly Catholic continent. It is necessary to do your best so that people can mature in faith. We can do this by means of the new evangelisation, which John Paul II challenged us to do.

- Every year millions of Catholics in Latin America join sects. In the 1980s the alarming statistics said that within one hour 400 Catholics joined pseudo-Christian, esoteric and African sects, leaving the Catholic Church. Today it is estimated that there are almost 150 million Pentecostals in Latin America. What has caused such an expansion of the Pentecostals and how does the Church try to prevent her believers from joining other Churches and sects?

- I think that the statistical data are relative. I have conducted research in my diocese recently. It has occurred that in a typical Catholic parish the average Sunday attendance is 8,000 faithful whereas about 3,000 people, mainly women and children, have visited 18 different Churches and sects in the territory of the given parish. Furthermore, when people are not satisfied they go from one community or sect to another, which often leads to religious indifference. And religious indifference is a serious problem. Sects have made an invasion on Latin America because they need many members, 'great numbers'.

- Why?

- They need many disciples since they want money. Sects have become a real 'religious business' and that's why they often stress that they have more and more new members and each of them has to pay his tithe. Pastors do not finance a parish, a seminary or various diocesan works and they manage the finances themselves, and thus they get rich very quickly. It often happens that people who call themselves pastors have no qualifications to fulfil this role. It happens that out of a sudden someone opens a new 'Church' in a garage in order to earn his living. The sects are successful because they propose a very easy 'version' of Christianity: they promise salvation; it is enough to pay money. If someone wants to remarry he/she can do that in sects. They accept 'marriage' relationships of people of the same sex. To tell you the truth, pastors of sects do not know true theology; I would say that they are relativists. They can only use biblical passages skilfully. It is their strong point.

- Is any form of ecumenical dialogue with these Christian or pseudo-Christian Churches and sects possible (for example with the institutionalised part of the Pentecostal movement)?

- So far it has been impossible because sects are not united. Every pastor has his/her own Church. Sometimes they create a conference but they do it in order to fight against the Catholic Church in a better way. They are not interested in ecumenical dialogue because they regard the Catholic Church as their enemy who can deprive them of believers and money.

- I know some priests who are on missions in various Latin American countries and they claim that the biggest problem of the continent is crime and corruption. Why have the societies, which should refer to noble evangelic values, yielded to corruption and violence?

- Because most baptised children stop attending services after their First Communion and consequently have no occasion to grow in faith. If such people become involved in politics they only focus on power and getting rich. It resembles the 'ideology', which was obligatory for 20 years (1968-88) when most Latin American countries were ruled by military regimes. In the opinion of the military officers who grabbed power the civilians were not prepared to govern the country. During the dictatorship the representatives of the regime increased their riches considerably, what was one of the reason of their countries' international debts. Unfortunately, after the civilians regained power they imitated their military predecessors, treating 'going in for' politics as a way to get rich. It is not easy to change people's mentality. However, we can do it.
On the other hand, spreading violence is connected with great poverty of people although its main reason is the activities of organized crime, dealing with illegal drug trade.

- The last decades in the history of Latin America were very turbulent: the period of right-wing dictatorships ended and democracy has started to be built (the Catholic Church played a big role in making the continent democratic). But for the last several years the left-wing politicians have assumed power and they are often very radical. How can you explain this left-wing political option in Latin America?

- People in Latin America want to improve their standard of living. They are tired of politics because governments change and people's situation does not improve. That's why, people do not vote or they choose politicians who promise real changes. Thus they vote for leaders who are seen as 'messiahs', like Chávez. The election of the left-wing party means that people expect bigger social justice. And this does not necessarily mean that they support the communist ideology, which collapsed.

- Giving power to the contemporary 'messiahs', the anti-American and anti-imperialistic populists, can turn out to be very dangerous...

- Of course. The case of Venezuela, which follows Cuba, is the best evidence. We do realize that and that is our concern.

- The recent data concerning the economic situation in Latin America are promising: increase of GNP (gross national product), in 2004 it was 6%, in 2005 - 4,3% and the prognosis for this year is 4%. But at the same time the World Bank informs that 10% of the richest people take 48% of the GNP whereas 10% of the poorest get only 1.6%; the poor constitute 43% of Latin America's population are and 18.6% live in extreme poverty. How can one commend on these data?

- I think that these data reflect the drama of the economic system that is dependent only on macroeconomic data and completely ignores the fate of the poor. After a decade of structural changes we have good macroeconomic results but at the same time poverty has increased. This means that we should change the functioning of our economy. So far big firms and the rich have benefited from globalisation whereas most people have become poorer.

- In one year, in May 2007, the Fifth General Conference of CELAM is being held in Aparecida, Brazil. Benedict XVI is coming for this event. What hope do the Churches in Latin America nurse concerning this important meeting?

- We have great hope because all previous CELAM conferences were very important. The presence of the Holy Father will enrich our meeting. We hope it will help us face the big challenge, namely the sects. Intensive preparations have already begun in parishes and dioceses. The motto of the conference itself is very meaningful 'Be disciples and missionaries so that people of Latin America follow Christ in their lives'.

"Niedziela" 28/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl