Classroom Exercises on Who Will Be the Next Pope
In a Church that has its most promising "market" not in Europe but in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and even in the United States, the signs are pointing to a single candidate: Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet
The Catholic Church is like Fiat-Chrysler. Slumping in Italy and Europe, it is coming back strong in the United States and has its most promising market in the rest of the world. With a clue about who the future pope will be.
The nation that has the largest number of Catholics today is Brazil, with 134 million, more than Italy, France, and Spain put together. Catholicism there has successfully confronted fierce competition, which in recent decades inflicted serious damage on it. Because when liberation theology was in fashion among the neo-Marxist Catholic élite, the faithful did not convert en masse to their message. They went over by the millions to the new Pentecostalist Churches, with their festive celebrations, music, singing, healings, speaking in tongues.
But now this exodus has stopped. In the Catholic Church as well, the faithful are finding the warmth of participation and firmness of doctrine that three and four centuries ago brought success to the Reductions, the Jesuit missions among the Indians. Next year, world youth day will be in Brazil. Pope Joseph Ratzinger has promised that he will be there.
Then there are the Asian tigers. South Korea is the emblem of these. There the number of Catholics is rising at an astonishing rate, with tens of thousands of adults baptized each year. They were the soul of the popular movement that peacefully overthrew the military dictatorship. And they are an active part of the productive classes that produced the Korean economic miracle. In the capital, Seoul, they are now 15 percent of the population, when only half a century ago they didn't even exist. And as in a big company, the Korean Catholic Church has set itself the goal of converting 20 percent of the population by 2020: "Evangelization Twenty Twenty" is the title of the program.
In Asia, the Philippines is the only nation in which Catholics are in the majority, with 76 million faithful. But beyond Korea, Catholicism is on the rise in various other countries. Even where it is most persecuted, like in China.
The estimates of the number of Christians there, Catholic and not, varies from a minimum of 16 million to a maximum of 200. Rodney Stark, one of the scholars most qualified in this area, identifies 70 million as the most realistic figure. Twice as many women convert as do men. And the conversions are more frequent in the cities, above all among the emerging and more prosperous classes. Those who visit the Chinese universities are surprised by the atmosphere there, more palpably "Christian" than in many Western universities.
Not to mention Africa. South of the Sahara, over the past century, Catholics have gone from less than 2 million to 130 million, with a missionary impetus unprecedented in the two thousand years of the Church's life. The most surprising character of this expansion is that it originated in Europe precisely when the Church there was gasping under the pressure of a culture and of powers hostile to Christianity.
But the surprises don't stop there. In the Unites States, the Catholic Church has stood up better than the historical Protestant Churches to the advance of secularization precisely where it has refused to align itself with the dominant cultures and ways of life. And today it appears much more active in the public arena, not only because of the new "affirmative" bishops who are leading it, but also because of the presence among its faithful of increasingly more numerous ranks of immigrants from Latin America. For Benedict XVI, the Church in the United States is the proof that the extinguishing of the faith is not the inevitable fate of the West.
In short, the metamorphosis underway in Catholicism worldwide is such that, if one wished to do a classroom exercise, the candidate for pope who most corresponds to it today is without a doubt Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, multilingual, the former archbishop of Québec, which is one of the most secularized regions of the planet, a talented theologian of the Ratzingerian school, now the prefect of the Vatican congregation that selects new bishops, and above all for many years a missionary in Latin America.
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