Pope Laments Sects in Latin America

Urges Resolute Pastoral Action for Evangelization

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 25, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II expressed concern over the growth of fundamentalist sects in Latin America, calling them a “serious obstacle” for evangelizing the “continent of hope.”

When he met Friday with consultants and members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Pope noted that those lands “now include close to half of the Catholic world.” But he warned of the impact of sects there.

“It is necessary to pay special attention to the problem of sects, which are a serious obstacle to the evangelizing effort,” the Bishop of Rome confirmed.

“Resolute pastoral action is needed,” he said, “to address this grave question, reviewing pastoral methods used, strengthening the structures of communion and mission, and taking advantage of the possibilities for evangelization offered by a purified popular religiosity.”

Sects are making headway in part because the Church in Latin America lacks the structures and sufficient personnel to care for its hundreds of millions of faithful.

The Pope appealed especially for “the presence of evangelizers, because wherever priests, men and women religious, and lay people are dedicated to the apostolate, sects do not prosper.” He added: “Although a gift of God, faith is not awakened nor is it maintained without the mediation of evangelizers.”

Latin America has relatively few priests, churches and evangelization endeavors, given its numbers of faithful. Honduras, for instance, has 15,505 Catholics for every one priest, according to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church. Cuba has 15,396 faithful for every priest.

Other countries suffering from a lack of priests are Nicaragua (10,303 Catholics per priest), Guatemala (9,837), El Salvador (9,151), Venezuela (9,010), Brazil (8,741) and Peru (8,351).

By comparison, Africa has about 4,000 Catholics per priest. The United States has 1,210; Spain, 1,324; and France, 1,784.

The Latin America figures led the Holy Father to emphasize the “capital importance” of the “fostering and care of vocations.”

“Latin America still needs many more priests,” he said.

The Pope was pleased to note how “new seminaries are arising in numerous dioceses, including minor seminaries.” In Mexico, for example, in 1990 there were 4,829 major seminarians; in 1998 there were 7,676. In Brazil, over the same period, the number of major seminarians soared to 8,076 from 3,224.

John Paul II suggested ways to check the growth of sects. First, he appealed to pastors attending the meeting to “preserve, defend and increase the integrity of the faith.” Second, he suggested the promotion of the Mass, as the “privileged place for the encounter with the living Jesus Christ. … Sunday Mass should be a constant commitment and practice of all the faithful.” Third, the Holy Father appealed for concerted effort in the “evangelization of youth.”

“The last World Youth Day,” he said, “… highlighted the fact that youth are a powerful force of evangelization for today´s world. It is necessary to evangelize them profoundly, beginning with their resources of generosity, openness and intuition.”

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