The phenomenon of “pop star” priests in Brazil is bringing back Catholics to the fold and posing unexpected roadblocks to the Protestant upsurge in the Latin American nation.
Peter B. Clarke writes in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (May) that the “explosion of Pentecostalism has provoked a Catholic response in Brazil which is led by young, charismatic, media friendly clergy who, although part of the Catholic mainstream, are providing a third way between it and the liberation theology.”
Leading these priests is the popular Father Marcelo Rossi, who features dancing he calls “aerobics of the Lord” at his packed crusades, one of which drew about 130,000 people.. The 31-year-old priest is joined by other “stars of the altar” such as Father Jose Luiz Janzen de Mello Neto, who has become a national phenomenon through his CDs and his surfing exploits.
Clarke finds that about 70 percent of Rossi’s audience are women who are said to enter a form of trance during his services. After Rossi conducts a conventional Mass, he dances on stage while singing and playing his guitar, occasionally throwing out buckets of holy water to the ecstatic crowds. Rossi’s following may also be due to the way he preaches Catholicism as a vocation taken up voluntarily rather than as a family tradition or heritage.
While the hierarchy and mainstream Catholics support Rossi (seeing how he fills churches), conservative and radical Catholics disapprove, the former fearing he desacralizes the Mass. While there are few statistics so far, Clarke’s informants speak of a “substantial numbers of erstwhile Catholics who had turned to Protestantism returning to Catholicism” after attending Rossi’s Masses.
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Centre for New Religions, Department of Theology, King’s College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK)