The Guardian has an interesting, if somewhat depressing, story about the rise of Evangelicalism in Brazil. If Brazil were an atheistic or Muslim country, the story would actually be uplifting, but since Brazil is a predominantly Catholic country, Evangelicalism’s rise has meant in many ways Catholicism’s fall.
In the past 20 years or so, Brazil, cited as the country with the biggest catholic population in the world, has witnessed a migration from Rome to the booming evangelical churches. According to IBGE (the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), the Catholic population in the country was 91.8% of the total in 1970. But the most recent survey, in 2000, revealed that the number of Catholics had fallen to 73. 8% with the number of evangelicals up from 5.2% to 15.6%.
Based on the article, it appears that most of the shift has come in the lower classes and has a definite Pentecostal flair. This seems to be the trend throughout Central and South America, as more and more people leave the Catholic Faith of their youth for an Evangelical community. Interestingly, it appears that very few are choosing to reject religion altogether, as is happening in America and Europe.
What is the cause of this shift? There are no simple answers, but I would be willing to bet that poor catechesis plays a strong part in the changes. People naturally desire an experience of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If someone believes that he can draw closer to Jesus in an Evangelical church than in a Catholic church, then he naturally will choose the former over the latter. But if this is the case, it means that he has not been properly formed; he does not understand that you cannot get any closer to Jesus than is possible in the Eucharist, which is not available in Protestant communities.
And this trend is not bound to South and Central American borders. Many immigrants to America from these countries are leaving the Catholic Church for Evangelical – especially Pentecostal – communities. Again, they believe they can draw closer to Jesus in those communities than they can in the Catholic Church. Let us re-double our efforts to catechize Catholics of the immense gift we have in the Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, comes to us directly, even physically, and we encounter him in a way not possible anywhere else.