Amazon: The Church Challenged by Evangelical Sects

Source: FSSPX News

A view of the Rio Purus

In 2024 in the Amazon, as elsewhere in Latin America, the Catholic Church is in clear decline compared to the evangelical sects. The result of decades lost wandering through the twists and turns of an ecumenism and an aggiornamento that fall more under the great illusion of the springtime of the Church.

The Washington Post (WP) tells the story of Fr. Moises Oliveira who serves communities along the Rio Purus, a river that winds 3,200 km and flows into the Amazon. The priest visited his “parish” of Sao Miguel by boat, accompanied by a senior reporter from the Washington Post who is investigating the competition that Protestants are bringing to Catholicism in the region.

“Like so many other isolated communities in the Amazon rainforest, Sao Miguel is historically Catholic,” says the WP. Not long ago, the annual apostolic tour of Fr. Moises was a celebration: “the only time of the year when residents could attend Mass, have newborns baptized, and go to confession,” he explains. The church was always too small.

But in 2020, the scene began to change with the arrival of an evangelical Protestant pastor. The latter was quick to turn around simple villagers, the reporter recounts, with an emphasis on exorcisms, the laying on of hands of a Pentecostal nature, promising wonders and miracles to those who would leave the Church and follow him. In this way he diverted most of the parishioners from the true faith.

“During his 36 years of priesthood, Fr. Moises witnessed the decline of Catholicism throughout Latin America, where evangelical Protestants increasingly questioned its historical domination,” the report continues. Brazil has been particularly affected (the most populous country in terms of Catholic faithful), which is shifting to evangelicalism.

The number of evangelical churches tripled, according to data provided by the Institute of Applied Economic Research of Brazil, “and now represents seven out of ten religious establishments,” according to the WP.

According to the Pontifical Yearbook of 2023, “nearly 180 million Brazilians” – or 84% of the population – “are of the Catholic Faith.” But, specifies the WP, “so many faithful have turned away from the Church that the country will soon no longer be predominantly Catholic,” if this is not already the case at present.

The 2019 Synod on the Amazon was an opportunity to discover the glorious past of the first Catholic missionaries in the Amazon. 

Certainly, there are zealous missionaries like Fr. Moises, but others are anthropologists in disguise. Thus, Fr. Corrado Dalmonego, Consolata missionary among the Yanomani, reduces evangelizing action to a simple exercise in interreligious dialogue. He praises the fact that he is the director of a “mission of presence and dialogue” where no one has been baptized for 53 years.

On the occasion of the Synod on the Amazon, the ordination of viri probati was proposed and then pushed back. Some bishops ask to return to a mission which gives greater visibility to the priest by wearing clerical clothing, and to place an emphasis on lay people trained to teach the catechism and doctrine, a terrain abandoned to the evangelical missionaries.

But is it already too late? In February 2024, Fr. Moises learned that 18 additional faithful from Sao Miguel had been converted by an evangelical pastor. 8,500 of them are present in the Amazon, compared to 78 Catholic priests.

However, Fr. Moises does not despair: visiting another community of faithful in Praia dos Pas, the religious is surprised to see the church full. And for good reason. The local Protestant pastor packed his bags due to the dengue epidemic which was then hitting the region. “It is not my work,” humbly declares Fr. Moises, “it is the work of the Lord.”