Now that Pope Francis has landed back in Italy, some of his friends in the Curia will be asking, “what did Brazil do to our dear Frank?”
In a few short weeks, the world’s first Latin American pope dusted off the staid old views of his predecessor Benedict and energized a flock in crisis.
Brazil might not be the country of the future in all of the respects it would like, but for Catholicism it has a pretty good case. Pope Francis made his first official papal visit to Brazil not because the beaches are good, but rather because the country is the largest Catholic country in the world by a long margin.
But it is a church in trouble. To draw just how far the church has fallen in Latin America’s largest country, Catholics now only account for ~60% of Brazilians, vs. more than 90% in Mexico, Spain, Italy and Argentina. In the crosswinds are local and U.S.-backed evangelical churches, offering the carrot of more inclusive and supportive social and religious services with the stick of a harder-line spiritual message.
This is a trend happening across the region, particularly amongst poorer Latin Americans alienated from the previously high-handed nature of the Catholic Church (Benedict’s attitude and Euro-centrism didn’t help). This trend, of course, cannot be altered overnight and one papal visit doesn’t make up for the decades of decay in the local hierarchy. But time will probably show that this visit reinvigorated a generation of young Brazilians at a time when the Church cannot afford to lose any more faithful in the country and region.