Evangelical missions a major threat to Amazon culture

Historically a Catholic country, Brazil has been facing a religious transition since the 1990s, when what had been a steady growth of Evangelical Protestantism began to accelerate.

According to some experts, Brazilian Evangelicals could become a majority in the country as soon as 2032.

This phenomenon is particularly strong in the Amazon, where some states have the biggest percentage of Evangelicals in the country.

Four of the six Brazilian States with the biggest proportion of Evangelicals are located in the Amazon, in the northern part of the country.

In Rondônia, which is at the top of the list, there were 734,000 Catholics in 2010 – when the last data were released by the government – and 528,000 Evangelicals.

Ten years before, in 2000, the number of Catholics was 793,000 and there were only 375,000 Evangelicals.

That is one of the many issues the Amazonian bishops will have to discuss at the upcoming Synod for the Amazon region taking place Oct. 6-27 in Rome.

“Until the 1970s, when I arrived in the Amazon, Brazil was almost completely Catholic. But the expansion of the farmlands in the cleared rainforest changed everything,” said Italian-born Bishop Flavio Giovenale of Cruzeiro do Sul, in the Amazonian State of Acre.

“It’s almost like the Evangelicals had the project of transforming the Amazon into a non-Catholic territory, following the gigantic changes in the region,” he said.

Most people avoid selecting one single reason for the increasing presence of Pentecostal and Neo-pentecostal Christians in the Amazon.

“It’s a complex phenomenon. But the Evangelicals certainly filled up the spaces we had left open,” saod Giovenale.

In major urban areas of the rainforest, such as Belém and Manaus – cities with populations of 1.5 million and 2.1 million, respectively – the process followed the same model as the rest of the country. In the opinion of Giovenale, rural migrants without roots in the city could find a community and a sense of Christianity only with the available pastors.

“The historical districts of most cities in Brazil are full of Catholic churches, while the poor, distant neighborhoods count only Evangelical churches,” the bishop said.

In the cities, the so-called Prosperity Gospel theology quickly seduced many poor migrants who had to adapt to their new reality, according to the Italian-born priest Luigi Ceppi, who has lived in the Amazon since the 1980s.

“The poor were put aside. Then appeared a kind of religiousness which promised to satisfy their material needs,” Ceppi argued. Continue reading

  • Image: Vatican News

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