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Proclaiming Christ in the Amazon

Interview With Bishop Castriani

TEFE, Brazil, JULY 27, 2006 (Zenit) - Sergio Eduardo Castriani is no stranger to the jungle.

He is the bishop of the Tefe Prelature, which extends over an area the size of mainland Italy and is located in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon region.

In this excerpt of his interview with us, Bishop Castriani, 52, speaks of the beauty and challenges of being the head of this jurisdiction.

In general, the population lives on the banks of the rivers that flood during the rainy season. They are descendants of the rubber workers and chestnut sellers. About three-quarters of the 215,000 inhabitants are Catholic, served by 14 priests.

Q: How is Jesus Christ and the Church's message presented to the natives?

Bishop Castriani: Virtually all the native groups already have or have had for centuries contact with the Church; that is, the Church is not just arriving there now.

With very rare exceptions, these native groups, including the nomads, who are also the most isolated, have already had contact with the Church. This contact has come about through an evangelization which at times has been a bit hasty, through sacramentalization and through devotions.

Because of this, the majority of the native groups are Catholic in the sense that they have been baptized. They have Catholic devotions and feel themselves part of the Church. A work of evangelization is being carried out with them, taking into account their identity and history, but it is an endeavor of evangelization to deepen the faith, that is, to believe in Jesus Christ and at the same time to continue to be natives, preserving their culture.

It is different with those who still have their traditional religion. They are groups in which people approach the Church with respect but with an attitude of dialogue. And dialogue presupposes that I am truly very convinced of what I believe, but that I respect that which the other believes.

It is, in the first place, a dialogue of life, that is, of coexistence, of humanly respecting one another and then, little by little, of revealing their own interior, creed, and of not having papers written ahead of time.

That is, when one enters into dialogue, one does not know what point will be reached, because if dialogue is to convince the other to adhere to one's own faith, then it isn't dialogue, it is proselytism. Only God knows where dialogue will end, and it is he who knows how much time will be necessary.

Q: What is the situation of sects in the Amazon? Is there concern?

Bishop Castriani: It is a concern as it is in the rest of Brazil. I think that in the Amazon the presence is less compared to other areas of Brazil. Although many have abandoned the Church, not all have; they are not the majority.

Moreover, our communities and churches are full; we have much work in the Amazon, the Church is very alive, with many young people, many guides; people want to study, to learn, to participate.

There is also a vocational movement that is beginning to work very well. It is a paradoxical situation, in the sense that there is an invasion of these religious movements but there is also a great rebirth in the Catholic Church.

It is difficult to know where it will end, but I don't believe in a conquest of the Amazon by Protestant churches and Pentecostalism, I believe this has a limit. However, all the Pentecostal churches look to the Amazon; they invest, send people and have a plan to conquer the area.

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