ROME – Latin America has long been considered a stronghold for Catholicism, despite the fact that, as in most of the developed world, both the Church’s numbers and its hold on national affairs seem to decrease, slowly yet steadily, every year. Nevertheless, there’s never a shortage of Catholic happenings “south of the border.”
Here’s a review of what’s been happening lately in the single largest Catholic zone on the global map, including Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela.
Chile, abortion, and an Evangelical “Te Deum”
In Chile, there’s an ongoing conflict over a Te Deum event, a traditional Catholic ceremony for which there’s now also an Evangelical version. This year in the Evangelical gathering, the country’s president was attacked both by preachers and the audience, mostly for partially legalizing abortion and presenting a bill to approve gay marriage.
On Sept. 10, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet left Chile’s Evangelical Cathedral angered, after the pastor (who’s also a candidate for Chile’s House of Representatives), Eduardo Durán Salinas, asserted that with the abortion and gay marriage moves, “minority groups” managed to advance “an agenda that doesn’t even have the support of the majority of the population.”
A second pastor, Dino Hormaechea, echoed Durán in his prayer for the nation. He spoke about abortion, saying that thousands of children will be killed because of a law approving abortion in three situations. It was recently approved in Chile, raising protests from many sectors, including the Catholic Church.
When Bachelet arrived at the church, people shouted at her, calling her a “national shame” and a “murderer.”
Also present at the Te Deum were three presidential candidates. According to local paper BioBio, Evangelicals represent 1.5 to 2 million potential votes.
Speaking with Crux, Marcelo Figueroa, a protestant leader from Argentina who’s very close to Pope Francis and who recently co-authored an article in the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica condemning what he and Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro called an “ecumenism of hate” between Evangelicals and conservative Catholics in the United States, said that he “wasn’t surprised” by the attack against Bachellet.
“The Evangelical church in Chile welcomed [Dictator Augusto] Pinochet in the Te Deum, while most of the Catholic Church denounced him,” Figueroa, who was tapped by the pope to head the Argentine version of the Vatican’s newspaper, said on Monday.
“They have a very narrow pro-life view,” he said. “The conservative Evangelical Church of Latin America is a case of its own.”
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago de Chile condemned the events, saying that things must be said with respect.
“I disapprove every insult and every curse that can be addressed,” he said. “This is not acceptable in any environment. Authorities and every person deserve the highest respect.”
On Monday, Bachelet participated in a second Te Deum, an ecumenical one, held in the Catholic Cathedral of Santiago and led by Ezzati.
Ahead of the event, the cardinal was quoted by local media saying that he’s in charge of the event, and that the only “condition” to participate was respect for others.
However, when the time came, Ezzati condemned both abortion and gay marriage, though in what he called a “clear and humble voice.”
“We reiterate that the value of a human life is so great, and the right to life of the innocent child that grows in the womb of his mother so inalienable, that in no way can the possibility of taking decisions regarding that life be seen as a right over one’s body.”
He also spoke about same-sex marriage, saying that the Church teaches that children are the most excellent gift of marriage, and that the spouses, “male and female, in transmitting human life, have a special participation in God’s own creative work.”
The Te Deum is a liturgical act of solemn thanksgiving to God with a deeply patriotic character and is a strong tradition in Chile, dating back to 1811. It serves as an act of thanksgiving to mark the anniversary of the national government.
Chile is one of a handful of countries in the world that celebrates a Te Deum on the occasion of the national holiday; similar celebrations take place in Argentina, Belgium, Guatemala and Peru.
Since 1971, the Chilean celebration has had an ecumenical character, when the then-Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez, following a request by President Salvador Allende, invited bishops and pastors of other Christian denominations to participate. Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals, plus representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities, participated in Monday’s edition.
Argentina: The Church asks for forgiveness
In the city of Paraná, Argentina, located in the state of Entre Rios some 300 miles from Buenos Aires, a priest has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing four altar boys aged 10-17.
Father Juan Diego Escobar Gaviria, a Colombian, worked for 11 years as parish priest in a local church, where he was known for his “healing” Masses. Many sick and afflicted would arrive at the local parish of San Lucas Evangelista, and the priest would lay his hands on them and pray for their intentions.
One of his victims came forth in late 2016. Escobar Gaviria was removed from ministry, and has been in prison ever since. As the investigation of the first accusation was taking place, three more victims came forth, and it’s possible more will continue to do so.
The archdiocese released a statement calling the sentence for a crime that “justly” shakes human consciences a “very painful thing.”
“We energetically reject this grave crime, and we’re full of shame and pain every time that one of our priests is accused of committing it,” the archdiocese said on Friday.
“We humbly ask for forgiveness for the hurt that situations which, like this one, cause pain to the People of God and society,” said the statement, published on the day of the sentence.
In Venezuela, the bishops had to deny a new saint
Rumors about the Vatican greenlighting a sainthood cause for doctor José Gregorio Hernández, a native Venezuelan, grew so quickly they had to be denied by the country’s bishops’ conference.
According to alleged information that began circulating over the weekend, the Vatican had approved a miracle needed to declare Hernández a saint, and the pope was going to announce the decision at some point this month together with the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata.
Never mind that she’s been acknowledged as a saint for over a year, and that Hernández needs not one but two miracles to cross the finish line.
The rumors began on Saturday, after Guillermo Cochez, a Panamanian politician, former ambassador to the Organization of American States, published a tweet about the upcoming announcement regarding the “doctor of the poor.”
The Venezuelan bishops released a statement calling the rumors “absolutely false,” and saying that they continue to pray and work for what they hope, one day, will be the beatification of venerable Hernández.
Though there are several women and men from Venezuela on the path to sainthood, to date there are no Venezuela-born saints.
In Brazil, a rally calling for religious tolerance
On Sunday, thousands took to the streets of the sprawling Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro to denounce what they perceived to be a growing climate of religious intolerance in the country, particularly against followers of cults of African origin.
Followers of candomblé and umbanda, two traditions impregnated by the beliefs of former African slaves, have recently been victims of attacks in Brazil’s infamous favelas, or slums, mostly perpetrated by people recently converted to Pentecostal churches that have flourished in the country in the past decades.
Two videos that went viral in social media showed aggressors forcing members of these cults to destroy images of their terreiros, or places of worship.
Cardinal Orani Tempesta, the Catholic Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, called his faithful to participate in the march to show solidarity with adherents of the alternative faiths, as did Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders in the country.