Pope Benedict believes that Catholics who convert to evangelical Christianity often do so because they experience a lack of fervor, joy and community within Catholic parishes – rather than for doctrinal reasons.
“Often sincere people who leave our Church do not do so as a result of what non-Catholic groups believe, but fundamentally as a result of their own lived experience; for reasons not of doctrine but of life; not for strictly dogmatic, but for pastoral reasons; not due to theological problems, but to methodological problems of our Church,” he told a delegation of Colombian bishops at the Vatican June 21.
The Pope’s comments were specifically focused on Latin America, where“the increasingly active presence of Pentecostal and Evangelical communities … cannot be ignored or underestimated.”
Despite statistics indicating that more than 90 percent of Colombians still identify themselves as Catholics, in recent decades the rate of conversions to evangelical Protestantism has increased across Latin America, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods.
Such a trend, the Pope said, suggests that increasing numbers of Christians feel called “to purification and the revitalization of their faith.”
In response to this, he urged Catholics to become “better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no-one feels distant or excluded.”
The Pope also offered some practical advice, calling for better catechesis – particularly to the young – carefully prepared homilies during Mass and the promotion of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities.
If Catholics strive to follow this path, the Pope said, it will help awaken in them “the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and become members of His mystical body.”
Similarly important, he said, is social solidarity with those who suffer most due to poverty or violence. A 2009 survey by polling company Gallup found that nearly 1 in 5 Colombians has had a close friend or relative murdered in past 12 months.
The Pope called for increased help for those people “whose fundamental rights are trampled underfoot and are forced to abandon home and family under the threat of terror and criminality,” as well as“those who have fallen into the barbarous networks of drugs or arms
Such“generous and fraternal” help, he said, is not born of “any human calculation” but from “love for God and neighbor: the source from which the Church draws the strength she needs to carry out her task.”