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With 1 in 10 Of The World's Catholics, Brazil Finds New Prominence In Papal Selection


One big question for the conclave is whether the cardinals will choose a pope from outside of Europe, and Brazil is one country that gets mentioned. It's home to more than one in 10 of the world's Catholics. It was the first country that Pope Benedict visited outside of Europe when he was elected, and a Brazilian cardinal is among those mentioned as possible contenders to be the next pope.


To find out more about that cardinal and Brazil's Catholics, we turn to Reinaldo Lopes. He writes about religion for the Brazilian paper Folha. Welcome, Reinaldo.


CORNISH: So, Reinaldo, as we mentioned, Brazil is a very Catholic country. Sixty-five percent of the population is Catholic. But that number is down from 90 percent back in 1970 in part because of the rise of secularism and the growth of evangelical Protestant churches. So how have Brazil's Catholic leaders responded to this trend?

LOPES: Well, in the first place, they're trying to move away from politics, really, especially politics in the sense of left-wing politics, which is - was very important for the Brazilian Catholic Church during our military dictatorship, for example. They were a voice of resistance against right-wing military leaders. And they became really close to the left, and some church leaders think that this has made the faithful to get away from the church. The people really don't want politics in the pew. They want religion. They want spirituality. And the other important stuff is the rise of charismatic Catholicism, people really trying to bring a kind of evangelical-like worship services into the Catholic Church, putting more emphasis on the Holy Spirit, a lot of music and even dancing in religious services.

CORNISH: And we have one example of that charismatic service you're talking about. We found a video of a very popular priest named Marcelo Rossi.


FATHER MARCELO ROSSI: (Singing in foreign language)

LOPES: There are other priests that have - really following in Father Marcelo Rossi's train. I think their main contribution is bringing back joy to being a Catholic. Their emphasis on joy, on music, on even dancing has made some Catholics really to come out of their closets in a sense. But still, he has an impact, but it's not enough to turn the tide.

CORNISH: So tell us more about the cardinal whose name is mentioned as a strong candidate to be the next pope.

LOPES: We're talking about Dom Odilo Scherer, who's now the archbishop of Sao Paulo, which is a huge diocese. He comes from a family of German immigrants, very Catholic German immigrants. So in that sense, his family background is - it looks a lot like Pope Benedict. He's fairly conservative. He has the reputation of being somewhat of an insider in the Vatican. He worked there for the better part of the decade from 1995 to 2001. So he has a reputation of really knowing how the Vatican works on the inside.

CORNISH: And what are people in Brazil thinking about his chances or about the chances that the next pope could potentially come from their country?

LOPES: I think the more progressive - so-called progressive wing of the Brazilian church wouldn't be too happy about it. But I think the man on the street, the common churchgoer would be happy and even delighted to have him as pope. Right now, I think the overall reaction is caution. We're still not too sure that he really is one of the guys who really have a chance to get there.

CORNISH: Why aren't people sure? Why are they so cautious? Is it something to do with the cardinal or is it something to do with the idea of a non-European pope?

LOPES: I think it's both. I think it's both. The Brazilians have some kind of underdog complex. We tend not to believe that the Brazilians can have a great impact in the global scene until this impact really comes.

CORNISH: Reinaldo Lopes, he writes about religion for the Brazilian paper Folha. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LOPES: Thanks very much. Bye- bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.