DAILY CATHOLIC     TUESDAY     August 10, 1999     vol. 10, no. 149

NEWS & VIEWS
from a CATHOLIC perspective

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CULT INFLUENCES IN BRAZIL MASSES CAUSES CONTROVERSY

          RIO DE JANEIRO (CWNews.com) - At the 11th Encounter of Black Bishops and Priests in Brazil, the inclusion of some rituals from Afro-American cults in the liturgy has given rise to a heated debate on the differences between ecumenism and syncretism.

          A number of bishops-- notably including Cardinal Lucas Mereira Neves, the former Archbishop of Bahia who now serves as prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops-- have been critical of the tendency among some priests in northeastern Brazil to insert pagan rituals into the Catholic liturgy, and even to invite priests and priestesses from the traditional cults to participate in some ceremonies.

          This controversy came to a head last week during the Encounter of Black Bishops and Priests. At that meeting, held in the city of Sao Salvador in the northeastern Bahia state, organizers made inter-religious dialogue a central theme of their sessions, with a special emphasis on the traditional cults. The meeting included a Mass celebrated at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pelourinho, a church adorned with African ornaments; the Mass was preceded by a "procession" that visited the city's most noteworthy temples of the African cults.

          At two stops on that procession, the participating priests asked for and received a "blessing" from the pagan priests and priestesses. One Catholic participant, Father Clovis Cabral, SJ, commented that it was "very nice" for a particular priestess to receive the Catholic clergy, and said the visit was a way to repay "the debt that the Catholic Church owes to the black people."

          But other Catholics in Bahia took a very different view of the ceremony, and hundreds gathered at the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows for a Mass of reparation. Father Dominique Mathon, the pastor who presided at the Mass of reparation, remarked: "To engage in dialogue is all very well, but to seek a blessing from a pagan priestess goes too far." The French-born priest said that, in light of the demonic influences within the traditional religions, the Catholic priests who participated in the "procession" had "given a terrible witness" for the Catholic faith.

          The controversy continued still further when some of the priests participating in the Sao Salvador meeting charged that Father Mathon was promoting racism by denigrating the traditional African cults. They brought formal legal charges of racial and religious discrimination against the French priest.


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August 10, 1999       volume 10, no. 149
NEWS & VIEWS

DAILY CATHOLIC

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