A recent report from a Catholic charity indicates that the Catholic Church in Guatemala is being seriously threatened by the growth of Evangelical sects that try to win converts with offers of money and other goods.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic Charity that works with oppressed and suffering Christians throughout the world, found that half of the people of Guatemala are now Evangelical, and new churches are appearing rapidly.
ACN issued the report after a 17-day trip that included 10 of the country’s 14 dioceses. The report describes how the new Evangelical churches far outnumber Catholic churches.
One example reported by a recent fact-finding trip was a 30-mile-drive through the northern part of the country, which yielded 10 Evangelical chapels or churches and only four Catholic ones.
According to the report, some radical leaders in the country have been bribing the poor to attend their church services, offering food, medicine and jobs. In addition, some Evangelical leaders are targeting the Catholic Church to recruit new members, attacking important Catholic teachings and exaggerating clergy scandals.
The report suggests that this type of recruiting occurs especially in poor areas after natural disasters or during other times in which the people are most affected by poverty and economic need. “It seems that what attracts people to sects is not so much a matter of faith but a matter of economics. It is the promise of getting rich quick,” says the document.
Now, concerns are growing that the Catholic Church in Guatemala may disappear into obscurity, unless efforts are made to prevent the massive numbers of converts to other Christian denominations.
ACN Latin America projects coordinator Xavier Legorreta said that although Guatemala has had strong Evangelical communities for years, the rate of their growth is surprising. “We were shocked by the sheer number of new Evangelical churches that we saw during the trip – they seemed to have mushroomed all over the place,” he said.
The ACN report goes on to talk about the major publicity campaigns being run by the Evangelicals, noting that the sects often receive strong financial backing from wealthy organizations in the United States. With posters and signs across the region, Legorreta believes the Evangelical leaders are getting their message through to the people.
“Everywhere, Evangelical Christianity is being promoted – on television, radio, billboards – even on the front of pharmacies in the main streets,” he said.
In response to the discoveries outlined by the report, ACN is working with the Guatemalan bishops on a plan to print and distribute more Catholic Bibles throughout the country. Legorreta reports that the local bishops are aware of the problem in their country and say they are “ready and waiting to help.”
Recognizing the importance of teaching the Catholic faith clearly, he added, “Bible formation is absolutely key to this – not only in Guatemala but all over the continent.”