LATIN AMERICA: Migration threat to Faith

With image of the Sisters from the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima in Bolivia (Image © ACN
With image of the Sisters from the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima in Bolivia (Image © ACN

A Catholic charity has highlighted the need to build up pastoral provision in Latin America’s cities to meet the challenge of mass migration on the most populous Catholic continent in the world.

According to Rafael D’Aqui – one of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)’s project heads for Latin America – with growing numbers of Catholics heading to large cities to escape severe rural poverty, the Church faces the challenge of ministering to these new arrivals.

Mr D’Aqui highlighted how ministering in the face of increasing migration to Bolivia’s larger cities poses a huge challenge.

Numbers have grown rapidly because of a rural exodus in a country where about 80 percent of the country’s 11 million population are Catholics.

He said: “The capital La Paz, for example, which is situated high in the Andes at an altitude of almost 12,000 feet (3,600 metres), had a population of 766,468 in 2012.

“But now it has over 1 million inhabitants, owing to the influx of people from the indigenous villages in the rural areas.

“There is an urgent need for more priests, and for this reason ACN is very much open to the requests from the dioceses affected, in particular for the formation of future priests.”

In Peru, where Catholics make up 76 percent of the population, mass migration from villages is also ongoing.

The growth of the suburban townships surrounding large cities, as people move there in the hope of finding jobs, has seen young Peruvians facing dangers such as drug addiction, and the loss of their cultural roots and family ties.

Mr D’Aqui stressed the importance of the family, both as a support network and a mainstay of faith, for young Latin Americans.

He said: “Families play a vital role in the transmission of the faith and the care of the community.

“They support other families, care for the elderly and so forth.

“When the family is broken, these values are lost and a vacuum created that is often occupied by the sects, which offer an alternative sense of ‘family’, a sense of being ‘someone’ and the recognition of their dignity.”

Sects, like “La nueva luz de Dios” (The New Light of God), and aggressive US-backed Christian groups have grown in Latin America.

A shortage of priests means the faithful are more likely to be drawn to these groups – which underlines the challenge the Church faces with the migration.

Latin America has almost 500 million Catholics, roughly 44 percent of all baptised Catholics in the world.