Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Pope calling it like it is

And taking decisive action.

ROMA, November 18, 2005 – The bishops have come to realize that every time they meet Benedict XVI, alone or as a group, they must be ready for anything: accolades, rebukes, surprises.

One example of a collective accolade is the one the pope extended to the Italian bishops’ conference.

. . .

The conference was already set for 2007, but the place and the exact date remained to be determined. The four bishops were prepared to hold it in Rome, in order to ensure the pope’s participation in the work.

But Benedict XVI said to them all of a sudden: “It will be held in Brazil,” and immediately asked what the country’s most venerated Marian shrine is. “The Aparecida,” they replied. And the pope: “In Brazil, at the Aparecida, in May. I’ll be there.”

The four cardinals were taken completely by surprise. And so were the leaders of the Roman curia – the pope hadn’t discussed the matter with any of them. What induced Benedict XVI to choose Brazil may have been what Cardinal Hummes said at the synod a few days earlier:

“The number of Brazilians who declare themselves Catholics has diminished rapidly, on an average of 1% a year. In 1991 Catholic Brazilians were nearly 83%, today and according to new studies, they are barely 67%. We wonder with anxiety: how long will Brazil remain a Catholic country? In conformity with this situation, it has been found that in Brazil there are two Protestant pastors for each Catholic priest, and the majority from the Pentecostal Churches. Many indications show that the same is true for almost all of Latin America and here too we wonder: how long will Latin America remain a Catholic continent?”

But the choice of the Aparecida also left the four cardinals speechless. That is indeed the most frequently visited shrine in Brazil, but it is located in an isolated part of the state of San Paolo, and it lacks the structures capable of hosting a large-scale continental congress.

But none of the four cardinals dared to object. The pope had decided, and his reasons were all too clear. He has at heart a vigorous renewal of the Catholic faith on the Latin American continent, and symbols are very valuable in this regard.

There’s time to build a convention center on the plain of the Aparecida, until May of 2007.


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