John Paul II's recent four-nation Latin America trip kept tensions between Catholics and evangelicals in the region bubbling. Clearly troubled by the erosion of Catholic numbers and influence, the pope brought a mixed message to Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Venezuela.

As expected, John Paul made a strong plea for an end to political violence and for "true peace," based on justice, holistic development, and "respect for the dignity of every person."

But the pontiff's call for reconciliation and mutual understanding did not extend to the religious sphere, where he complained that Indians and peasants, in particular, are being led astray by "sects and new religious groups, who sow confusion and uncertainty among Catholics." Evangelicals throughout Latin America have protested Catholic leaders' inclusion of historical Protestant denominations with aberrant Pentecostal groups in their use of the term sects.

EXCHANGING WORDS: Members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a highly controversial religious group, distributed "The Pope Is the Anti-Christ" leaflets in Guatemala City. Last October, a Brazilian bishop of the Universal Church kicked a Catholic statue on live television (CT, Dec. 11, 1995, p. 64), thereby fueling religious tensions.

Five days before the pope's arrival in February, Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio, Guatemala's highest-ranking prelate, accused evangelicals of being instruments of rich foreign governments, calling them "the opiate of the people." He said evangelicals practice an easy faith with no social conscience and they do not have what it takes to produce martyrs. Evangelicals continue to suffer persecution at the hands of Catholic mobs in neighboring Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican ...

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