Alluding to Protestant Pentecostalism, among other movements, Pope John Paul II called religious sects a "serious problem" in predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America and urged the region's bishops to reevangelize their flocks.
"Resolute pastoral action is necessary to face this serious problem," the Pope told bishops belonging to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, which met in Rome earlier this spring.
The 289 million Catholics in Latin America make up almost a third of the 1 billion Catholics worldwide, according to Vatican statistics.
The bishops must face this challenge by "reviewing the pastoral methods employed, reinforcing the structures of communion and mission, and seeking results from the possibility of evangelization," John Paul said.
"You well know how important the presence of evangelizers can be," he said, "because where priests, nuns or laity tied to the apostolate are at work, the sects do not prosper."
Protestant Pentecostals in Latin America have been attracting large numbers of Catholic converts in recent years.
According to William Taylor of the World Evangelical Fellowship's Missions Commission, the number of evangelicals in Latin America has grown from 50,000 in 1900 to about 64 million in 1997—about three-fourths of whom are Pentecostal or charismatic.
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