Brazil cardinal suggests church look to Latin America

APARECIDA: Catholicism in Latin America is "lively and dynamic," Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis said Sunday, suggesting that the church look to Latin America for leadership.

Damasceno is one of the 117 "cardinal electors" that will participate in the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope. No favourite has to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who announced that he is stepping down at the end of the month.

The 76 year-old Damasceno, who is also head of Brazil's Conference of Catholic Bishops, told AFP in a phone interview that, unlike in Europe, the faith is strong in Latin America.

"The church in Latin America is enjoying a very special moment, with strong missionary enthusiasm," Damasceno told AFP.

That enthusiasm serves to bolster flagging interest for Catholicism in Europe, a region "undergoing a very intense process of secularisation and that suffers from a crisis of religious vocations."

Openly campaigning for the papacy is taboo, but cardinals discreetly drop hints about their preferences.

Brazilian bishops believe that it is "fundamental" for the next pope to be a person who is a pastoral figure, Damasceno said, "open to dialog with the contemporary world and sensitive to social problems."

Damasceno, himself a candidate, is one of five Brazilians who will be at the conclave. They include Odilo Scherer, 63, who was ordained by Benedict in 2007 and heads the five million strong archdiocese of Sao Paulo, and Salvador archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, 79.

Brazil has the most Catholics in the world, but in recent years evangelical and Protestant churches have made considerable inroads, especially among the poor.

- AFP/jc

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