Sects Seen as a Cultural Challenge in Latin America

According to Cardinal Poupard

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RIO DE JANEIRO, JUNE 9, 2005 ( Sects are perhaps the most important “cultural challenge” facing the Church in Latin America, says a Vatican official.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, based his conviction on the reports submitted by bishops during their five-yearly visits to Rome, and on the conclusions of a questionnaire prepared by the council’s March 2004 plenary assembly.

The French cardinal illustrated these conclusions Tuesday when opening the 2nd Meeting of American Members and Consultors of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in Brazil.

Responses to the questionnaire on the state of faith and unbelief, the cardinal said, “showed the diminution in militant and theoretical atheism in the same measure as the growth of an ‘a-confessionalism’ or a ‘light’ form of Christian life.”

“If in the ’70s and ’80s secularism was expressed in some young people as ‘Christ yes, the Church no,’ today, an invasive mentality says: ‘God perhaps, religion yes,'” he said. “But not a personal God; rather, an impersonal, sensible, emotive and confused energy.”

The chain

According to Cardinal Poupard, religious sects are the penultimate link in a chain that ends in indifference.

That chain, he said, “begins with the absence of an answer through religious experience to the problem of the meaning of life.”

This phenomenon is due to “a compulsive search for transcendence,” he said, “and rejection of any authority that does not justify itself by being emotionally close.”

According to the Vatican representative, the presence of religious sects is evidence of the need to recognize that many Catholics have not had contact “with the proclamation of Christ Savior, with the gratuitousness of love and the transcendence of God.”

“Unfortunately they did not receive it from the ministers of the Church that baptized them,” the cardinal said. “Many received only imperatives, rules, programs and commitments to action, but they were ignorant of the proclamation of salvation with convincing force and concrete language.”


“Why is it that, in the collective imagination, to speak with passion of Jesus Christ is considered a feature of the sects, while the Church is seen as having inquisitorial and bureaucratic seriousness, despite the fact that our pastoral program in America is one of closeness to the faithful?” asked the cardinal.

“Might the existence of sects be an occasion for pastoral renewal?” he further asked. “Is it not the case that there is hunger for a language that is intensely mystical and concrete, both in our preaching, catechesis and liturgy, as well as in the attitudes of community life?”

Cardinal Poupard pointed to a source of hope.

“In the Catholic realm there are movements and new ecclesial communities which use a language and practice that draws thousands of Catholics, paralyzed in their life of faith, out of their lethargy and estrangement,” he said.

“Their community accent, their strong identity and sense of belonging, their desire to remain in the communion of faith, their pastoral deployment — are an undeniable richness,” the prelate contended.

Beauty of Christ

According to Cardinal Poupard, culture is transmitted through historical categories, which “consciously or unconsciously respond to the desire for happiness.”

“If we do not speak a language the world understands, we will remain shut-in in an academic ghetto,” he warned. “If we do not acknowledge that man’s being has a specific metaphysical identity, we will remain at the mercy of nihilist practical atheism.”

But, we must not fear in the face of these challenges, the cardinal added.

“The beauty of Christ,” he said, “makes us capable not only of expressing ourselves in the language of our contemporaries but of communicating the indestructible life for which man yearns.”

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