Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 27, 2004
Conversion by rank corruption
Political paranoia pushes Catholics through evangelical church doors
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Lately, it's been my habit every afternoon to go for long walks. I'm still trying to get in shape in order to hike in all sorts of difficult terrains to isolated communities.
Yesterday I got on a road I did not know before and just walked. It was a very pleasant walk as the country is so beautiful. People are friendly and ready to engage in conversation with strangers.
After more than an hour I came unto a small community called Los Platanos. Dominating the horizon was a church with large black metal doors. There was also a cross on the steeple: surely a Catholic church I thought.
A lady with a few children happened to pass by. I asked her if the church was Catholic. "Yes it is," she said. She added however that she and her family had left the Catholic Church years ago to join the evangelical church. I asked her why. She said that she was happier there as she feels they get "better instructions and consolations."
Sharing this with Father Roberto he said the main reason so many left the Catholic Church was because of fear. The war and violence was on and Catholics were being killed left and right. The army led by General Rios Montt was openly anti-Catholic though his brother has been a fine auxiliary bishop in Guatemala City for years.
It is a fact that some 20 years ago if you were Roman Catholic there was a good chance you'd get shot: you're evangelical, you're just fine. Why was that?
I dug around, asked people and my colleagues why. Some of us will remember the time of the Cold War some 20 plus years ago. Communism had become the deadly enemy and many people in Eastern European countries were persecuted, imprisoned and also killed in great numbers.
Anything slightly left of the equation was seen as being Red, commie, dangerous and fearful.
In this atmosphere of anxiety the Cold War was born. Anything a little pink, never mind red, sent our Western governments afluttering.
These governments, including Canada and the United States, were deeply concerned with communism and even socialism. They saw in those philosophies a threat to the Western world.
Thus the great social encyclicals of the popes concerned with social welfare, just wages for workers, health programs, peace and development, the promotion of justice, education, were looked at with great suspicion.
Some people in many Western nations interpreted these papal documents as communistic.
In Guatemala, paranoia took over and it suited the leaders of the day to attack the Catholic Church that they deemed to be communistic, precisely because of her great social teachings.
As a consequence, hundreds of thousands of Catholic people were murdered by the army as well as by the guerrillas. To save their lives, many Catholics embraced the fundamentalist Christian sects that the Guatemala government invited into the country to help combat the Catholic Church and its members.
Saturday morning I watched the ordination of two new bishops on TV. One looked indigenous, the other was of Spanish descent.
Father Roberto, who was also watching this, mentioned that during Mont's dictatorship in the early 1980s his soldiers were ordered to assault the Spanish embassy - truly Spanish territory - where all the personnel of the embassy were slaughtered. Among them was the mother of the new Ladino bishop.
Life on the line
Being Catholic in those days of artificially created paranoia was to put your life on the line. Not surprisingly great numbers of parishioners heeded the call to survival by joining the various American evangelical groups who were invited by the Rios Mont government into Guatemala.
No wonder the woman I met in Los Platanos near the Catholic Church could hardly resist the "consolation" of saving her life and that of her children's. So did many others.
Out of 12 million people in this small country (one-sixth the size of Alberta), 40 per cent have switched to the evangelical churches that have sprouted like mushrooms all over the country.
This, thanks mainly to the paranoia created by a murderous dictator who is still allowed to strut his stuff in the media, although now from the gentle control of being under house arrest.
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