A Discussion with Fr. Luis Corrêa Lima, Professor of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University, Rio de Janeiro
November 27, 2013
Background: With a focus on the particular challenges and implications of Jesuit work in Brazil, Fr. Luis Corrêa Lima, S.J., and Erin Shevlin discussed contemporary globalization and its intersections with the Catholic Church in this conversation on November 27, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. The exchange emphasized the unique perspective of South American Catholic communities in a time of rapid change.
Tell me about your vocation and how you entered the order.
My interest in the Jesuits began when I was in middle school. I was very interested in religion. The vocation started as an inner appeal. It appeared to me as the will of God, as a possibility to be happy, to do good. After that I went to college, and after graduation I went into the Society when I was 22. So the vocation started in middle school and it grew and grew until I was 22 and I was accepted into the Society.
How do you see globalization from your perspective and from the perspective of the Jesuits as a whole?
In fact globalization comes from the sixteenth century. We can say that the first globalization was at that time Iberian, made by Portugal and Spain. These were the first globalized empires. During the nineteenth century, we had instantaneous information with the telegraph and even more media technology in the twentieth century, and this accelerated globalization.
How has globalization impacted the work of the Jesuits?
Since the beginning, the Society was a globalized order. The Society was a protagonist of globalization. One of the first Europeans to go to Japan was a Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier. At the end of the sixteenth century the Jesuits were also in China and Tibet and the first written accounts of China (except for reports of Marco Polo in the Middle Ages) and Tibet that were sent to the Occident came from the Society. Also, much of what we know about colonial Brazil is due to letters from Jesuits. So the Society has been part of globalization—their letters and publications have helped to encourage it.
Do you see any particular challenges with contemporary globalization?
I think that after the Second Vatican Council, the way that the Church sees itself has changed. The Church renounced the direct relationship between church and state, the ancien régime and accepted modernity. But the acceptance of modernity is still a great challenge for the Church and for the Society. To accept modern culture, laicity, separation of church and state, and the autonomy of secular realities—these are the great challenges for the Church. Ecumenical dialogue and interreligious dialogue are also important, because God’s grace resides not just in the Church but also in other Christian churches, non-Christian religions, and in secular society too. The Church Father said that we sow the seeds of Christ in the search of truth, of good, and of God. So the seeds are in secular society, even in atheists and agnostics and in non-Catholic religions and non-Catholic groups. The Second Vatican Council said that we shall not reject anything that is saintly or that is true in non-Christian religions or in the secular world. I think accepting this idea is the greatest challenge for us.
How have the Jesuits in particular approached that challenge? Do you think that the Jesuits have approached things differently than the rest of the Church?
Since its early beginnings, the Society has focused on frontier work, not just geographic frontiers, but also apostolic, human frontiers where there are conflicts between the Christian message and human desires. That is where the Jesuits must work, on the frontiers, and I think that it’s part of our charism. Because of this precedent, just by being a Jesuit, we have many opportunities.
How do you think that Pope Francis being a Jesuit will impact the Church?
I think that he is impacting the Church with his Jesuit formation. I think that his speeches and his practices are very similar to Cardinal Martini. The Pope insists on existential peripheries, that we must go outside of the Church not only geographically but also existentially. And this is a Jesuit idea; the Pope’s choices are Franciscan, but his DNA is Jesuit.
Do you think the Pope will also impact the Jesuit order itself?
I think that he confirms what the order is. But not to be unjust, Pope Benedict [XVI] was good for the Society. The best papal speech about the Society that I have heard was from Pope Benedict. In 2008 when he received the delegates for the General Congregation to elect Adolfo Nicolas, his speech was marvelous. He developed the idea of working on the frontiers. He also chose a Jesuit, Father Lombardi, to be the head of the Vatican Press Office and another Jesuit, Archbishop Ladaria, as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. This attitude is very different from the time of Pope John Paul [II], who did an intervention in the order that was terrible.
How do you think Jesuit work in South America and Brazil in particular compares to work done elsewhere in the world?
I think that it has to do with the Church. The Church in Latin America is different from the Church in Europe. I think we Jesuits follow this particularity of the role of the Church in different countries. Father Nicolas has said that what the Church expects from the Jesuits is profundity and spiritual vigor, and I think we show that in our work and that is what we must seek in our work. And we must adapt that mission to our geographic location and the diversity of the place in which we are.
Going back to globalization, what challenges do you think Brazil faces in particular and what are the implications for Jesuit work in Brazil?
I think that the instantaneous spread of information is the most impactful part of globalization. Things that happen in one country have an immediate impact on another. I think that it helps to think in terms of the whole world because many problems of the world affect everybody. So solutions must address the whole system, whether that be about climate problems or economic problems. The biggest problem facing Latin America in particular though is probably inequality.
We have also had something similar to the Reformation of the sixteenth century happening here in the last 40 years, not with the historical Protestant church but with the Pentecostal movement. Many members of the Catholic Church have gone to Pentecostal churches. This has to do with urbanization starting in the mid-twentieth century. We have transformed from a rural society to an urban one. Democratization has also affected the process. Individuals have more choice and feel less bound to tradition. Tradition does not have the same weight as before—people can more easily not be Catholics anymore. During the colonial period, people had to be Catholic in order to be citizens because we didn’t have birth certificates—there was no civil register, just a baptism register. So in order to formally exist, you had to be baptized, you had to be Catholic. And we didn’t have civil marriage, just religious marriage in the Church. So back then everyone had to be Catholic. After the coming of the republic at the end of the nineteenth century, you didn’t have to be Catholic, but the tradition was still very strong. But then after the democratization of the 1970s, individuals had more liberty to choose their religious beliefs and ideology.
Has the Catholic Church tried to combat that to try to bring people back to the Church?
No. We’re just trying to be ourselves. It’s interesting because Pentecostals have grown in Brazil in the last decades but the number of practicing Catholics have also grown. We have here in Brazil many non-practicing Catholics. Because of the legacy of colonization, Catholicism is the religion of the majority, but that doesn’t mean that everybody believes or follows this practice. I would say about 70 to 80 percent of Catholics are not practicing. They go to church once or twice a year. But nowadays, practicing Catholics are growing. Our sanctuaries are seeing millions of people. The number of pilgrims, parishes, and priests is growing.
Why do you think that is?
I think contemporary society has a spiritual thirst. Maybe it’s not institutional, but it exists. It doesn’t mean that these people don’t have faith; they just don’t belong to any denomination. We have very few atheists. We have many believers and some agnostics who believe God exists; they don’t really know, but they don’t deny. We have very very few strict atheists. So I think there is a thirst for spirituality and religious practice, even if people don’t belong to a denomination. We also have those who practice multiple faiths. Perhaps this is something more common in Brazil and in Latin America. During the colonial period, everyone was Catholic, but they also practiced some Afro-religions and other traditional beliefs and they did not feel that they were not Catholic. There are many mestizos who came from mixed race marriages whose culture was based on mixed cultures. Today, more than 50 percent of Brazilians are of mixed heritage. We have a melting pot of race and culture. This makes the culture, politics, and religious practices very malleable. There are many syncretic religious practices in Brazil because of the ancestral culture interacting with Christianity.
What about social justice activities? Has the focus shifted at all with globalization?
Many Jesuits are involved with refugee services which may be a product of our globalized society. Many Jesuits who work in social justice are close to and participate in the World Social Forum.
Do you see with the declining number of Jesuits that there is a challenge to the work being done by the order?
Yes, I think that the decreasing number is a big challenge. For some Jesuits, it’s very hard—it’s something that harms people. But I think that we are in a different world. What is happening to us has happened to other religious orders and after the Second Vatican Council, we don’t have the monopoly on sanctity. There is no such thing as a first class Christian anymore. Before, the lay people were almost like second class Christians, but now we don’t have a monopoly on sanctity so it is natural that our numbers decrease. There is not a divine decree that we must exist forever, or that we are the greatest order in the world. We must accept this diminishing in numbers as part of our time. We are becoming a small group, but it’s not a tragedy. We can gladly live with that. I think what we do is important—if our numbers decrease, our works cannot continue, but the most important thing is that if we are living our message. This is the most important thing— whether we are many or few is less important. Many rigorous groups grow in the Catholic Church and out of the Catholic Church. But they have too much certainty, which is a temptation. Certainty creates a sense of false security; it is very seductive, and is a temptation. It is a house built on sand, not on stone.