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Television, Catholic Youth and São Paolo

6/13/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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By Fr. Robert J. Carr

Sao Paolo, Brazil--We are in a major world class metropolitan city, surrounded by traffic jams, tall buildings, a large population, and cultural centers.

I am standing in a television studio, the set is designed to remind one of a city street. The walls look like the sides of brick buildings, there is a fire hydrant and a street sign. Standing on stage right are musicians with key boards; guitars, both acoustic and electric; drums; a saxophone and a harmonica. The live audience is made up of mostly teens and young adults and the host is warming up the audience by belting out a tune in popular music style as the musicians play. We are all clapping and jamming. The set has, in several places, the three letters that signify this show. If you figured them to be MTV you should not be faulted, but any similarity between that American network and this Brazilian program ends here. We are about to watch a live broadcast of PHN.

The song ends and the host, a man named Dunga, does something that you do not see often in preparation for American music programs with teenagers. He sits down and puts his right hand to his forehead. The audience and the crew do the same.

En o Nomem do Pai, do Filho e do Espiritu Santo he says as everyone blesses themselves. He then prays the Hail Mary. Just prior to this moment a crew member passed out prayer cards. On the front was the face of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin on the back is a prayer based on that image. Everyone recites the prayer. Next, just as normally as was prayed the other orations, the host speaks in tongues in prayerful adoration. Most of the musicians, the crew and the audience follow suit including myself. They finish with another prayer in their native Portuguese and the pre-program preparation continues.

Praying in tongues here is as normal as praying in Portuguese. Indeed, the previous day I spoke with Fr. Jonas Abib a co-founder of Canção Nova, the religious community who’s television network brings PHN to Brazil and the world by standard television broadcast, satellite and internet. He tells me that the problems in the United States come from the fact that we rejected the Charismatic Movement. In prayer, I come to understand that he could be right. The Charismatic Renewal became part of mainstream spirituality in Brazil soon after it began. The fruits of it are obvious. A television program of committed teenagers and young adults in prayer. They pray the rosary, they love Our Lady, they know Jesus. The irony is that is that the Charismatic Renewal started in the United States. It began at Notre Dame University in the early seventies. Yet, it is the Brazilians that understand it more than the Americans.

PHN, which stands for Por Hoje Não Vou Mais Pecar, For Today, I Will Not Sin. It is a youth oriented philosophy that focuses on two things. Working to not sin, and knowing what to do when one sins.

Dunga explains the teachings to me prior to the show. (We talk in the second language of Dunga and myself, Spanish, as I do not speak Portuguese.) "When one sins, one again immediately roots oneself in the important sacraments of Confession and then Eucharist." he explains. Canção Nova is very sacramental. It also believes in obedience to the Magisterium.

Catholic theology recognizes several pillars that seem to oppose each other. Healthy theology balances itself between them: faith AND works, scripture AND tradition, faith AND reason, charismatic AND institutional.

It reminds me of one of the concerns of the Charismatic Movement in the US. There was a focus on the word and not on the sacraments: scripture not tradition. Knowing Jesus through scripture and in extreme cases teaching that sacraments are not necessary. Indeed, it is the latter concept that is one of the foundations for the movements trying to change the Church: Sacraments are not necessary. You will not hear those words at PHN or at Canção Nova. Indeed, you will hear the opposite.

The monitor shows the transition on the network. The program coming out of Canção Nova Television’s main studios in Cachoeira Paulista ends. PHN from networks studios in São Paulo three hours north by car begins. Three camera men twist and turn their devices to make the usual youth oriented video effects. The tamborine man shakes the instrument into the lens that is turned forty five degrees to the left. Dunga sings as the camera moves and and out of his face. He acts as if it is not there. We are standing and clapping. Another camera pans across the audience.

The song ends and Dunga begins his talk to the youth. I do not understand much Portuguese.

Surrounding far side of the main set are large posters of the Shroud of Turin and of information related to it. This is not part of the regular set. The guest, a medical doctor, will talk to the youth ...

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