Yesterday, while I wrote this blog, two important events were about to happen in my home country. First, the Colombian qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Brazil, and the second, the arrival of Pope Francis. Nothing like religion and soccer to collapse the country of the Sacred Heart.
While I watched the game, I scared my son several times with my gut retching screams every time the Colombian and Brazilian players shot their cannons at the opponent’s goalies. I even had to take an acid reducer pill to control my gastritis.
Brazil scored at the 44th minute, and then at the 55th minute Colombia tied the match. The next 40 minutes I prayed the Rosary, honoring the nuns of my high school, praying to the Lord that the referee will end the game.
Raised into a Catholic home, like 58% of Colombians, I learned to revere the traditions of the apostolic church, especially Pope John Paul II, at an early age. I still remember July 1st, 1986 and the pale rose puffy dress that one of my aunts gave me to go see the Pope-mobile cruising down the streets in Bogota from a mile away.
On that occasion, the Pope stayed seven days in Colombia, visited 11 cities, and officiated 27 services. Times were hard in my country. The Armero tragedy caused by the eruption of the Ruiz Volcano, the Palace of Justice siege by guerrillas, and the boom of drug trafficking trade had the population on its knees. Therefore, the visit of the most traveled pope in history, came as a soothing cold cloth to wipe the tears of a suffering country.
31 years later, the current visit of Pope Francis to Colombia, which in comparison includes only four cities, comes at a time of despair caused by deep political and social division after a contentious peace process with the guerrillas and next year’s presidential election.
Controversial and spontaneous since he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis has kept Latin America high on his priority list. He visited Brazil that same year, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay in 2015, and will visit Chile and Peru next year.
Besides the fact that the Sumo Pontificate is the first Spanish speaking Pope, the Catholic Church knows well that it must keep the “New World” close to its heart. According to 2010 data, the Americas and the Caribbean represent almost 50% of its total congregation around the world, of which 28% is from South America.
The massive influx of Muslim refugees from Africa and the Middle East into Europe has transformed the demographics of the old continent reducing the number of Catholics. Right now, it is estimated that only 25% of the population is Catholic compared to the 75% at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Now, although the US ranks fourth with the largest Catholic population in the world–behind Brazil, Mexico, and thee Philippines, and ahead of Italy–its own social and demographic transformation seasoned with politically correctness to avoid offending sensitivities, has forced traditional Catholic institutions to remove statues from their grounds. That is the recent case of the Californian private school San Domenico in the city of San Anselmo.
Nonetheless, regardless of the worldwide cultural persecution, the Catholic Church has tripled its congregation in the last century–from estimated 291 million in 1910 to 1.1 billion in 2010–registering a growth spike in the sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions.
Even though I haven’t been to mass in a long time, mostly because of the corruption and cover-ups of sex abuse scandals by priests, my faith in Christ is part of my identity and the values that my mother and grandmother applied while raising me. I am not sure if I would dress up to go see any Pope now, but I am sure that the family unit is where the power of religion is built, sustained, and strengthen with the passing of time.
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