Bishop Jose Luiz Bertanha, SVD
Bishop Jose Luiz Bertanha, SVD, was born in Cascalho, Brazil. He entered the Divine Word Novitiate in 1963 and professed First Vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1965. He professed Perpetual Vows and was ordained to the priesthood in 1971. He was assigned to ministry in his native Brazil. On July 26, 1998 he was ordained a Bishop in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is currently the Bishop of the Registro Diocese in Brazil.
I mentioned to Bishop Jose Luiz Bertanha, SVD, that in 1990 Catholics in the Diocese of Registro accounted for 83.6% of the total population and in 2004 the percentage went down to a startling 47.3%. Within a span of 14 years the number of Catholics in the diocese had shrunk from 229,000 to 137,091. Before even asking where the Catholics have gone, Bishop Bertanha already had a response. In the whole of Brazil, not only in the diocese, Pentecostal communities coming from Evangelical churches have multiplied. These Pentecostal communities have influenced Catholic individuals and families by offering promises and easy solutions to their personal worries and problems. Bishop Bertanha believes strongly that those who are easy prey to such proselytizing are those who live in isolated places and rarely have personal contacts with their priests or lay leaders. They are not well catechized. “These Catholics are good and very religious,” Bishop Bertanha convincingly describes, “but unfortunately their faith and religiosity seek for miracles and deep religious experiences.” The Bishop added, “What would you expect to happen if there is a scarcity of priests and lay leaders?”
When Bishop Bertanha was installed as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Registro, replacing another SVD Bishop, Dom Apparecido Jose Diaz, SVD, he immediately faced the challenge of the declining numbers of Catholics. His efforts all these years were directed toward the formation of priests, religious and lay leaders. Bishop Bertanha is convinced of the strength and promising future possible by training our young people and deepening their faith based on an authentic way of living.
In the diocese there are many people grappling with day to day living marked by extreme poverty, lack of jobs, housing and poor sanitation. Bishop Bertanha thinks that it is important to know these realities for an authentic journey with the people. In the diocese there are a number of peace and justice initiatives that respond to housing, sanitation, land rights and ethnic inclusion. “When faith is expressed in works it becomes as effective way of evangelization,” the Bishop remarked.
Bishop Bertanha is thankful for the support of the Divine Word Missionaries in the diocese. There are 14 Divine Word Missionaries working there, and they are working in the most difficult and poorest parishes in the diocese. He believes that there is so much potential for the Divine Word Missionaries as a religious community to exercise its charism as missionaries. Bishop Bertanha continues to remind Divine Word Missionaries to be always the vanguards of the Bible apostolate, communications ministry and justice and peace initiatives. The Bishop added, “I don’t want them to be acting like diocesan priests, they are Divine Word Missionaries and they are missionaries.”
Hopefully, the next time I meet Bishop Bertanha he will have a different response to my question: Where have all the Catholic gone in your diocese?