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Catholic Priest in Brazil Offers Blessings Through Facebook, Sparks Debate

A Catholic priest in Brazil is drawing attention for giving blessings to the believers online through his Facebook account.

The priest of the municipality of Nova Petrópolis, in Rio Grande do Sul state, southern region of Brazil has decided to expand his outreach to bless those who are unable to attend his sermons in person. So for those who are unable to attend the St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, where Father Ari Antonio da Silva, 62, gives his sermons, they are able to receive his blessing through the Internet.

The priest's online blessings have become popular and if demand continues to rise he is considering the possibility of creating another profile.

"I think this is very interesting. I've never seen anything fancy about what I am doing, but lately it has become a novelty here. The Catholic Church is adapting to these new styles. I think it's very important, although I am also widely criticized for this," he told the Brazilian publication G1.

Despite some criticism, he has said he cannot stop tending to his followers.

"Everyone tells me to create another profile and always asks me: 'Father (Ari)' please give your blessing. And I always answer: 'God bless you and your entire family," he said.

The "modern" priest's masses are successful and his church is always crowded. Ari himself has said he is well known in the region where he has lived for over 35 years. For him, the blessings he gives over the Internet do not stop people coming to his parish in person.

"Even though I bless some of the believers through the Internet, I do not think it distances people from my parish. In fact, the believers are increasing, my parish is always crowded," he said.

Ari holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Salamanca, which is the oldest university in Spain. He also writes for a newspaper and is the author of several religious books.

Ari's methods, however, are raising debate over how he is seemingly looking to modernize the Catholic Church, and he continues to receive criticism from more conservative church folk.

However, Ari is not the only one seeking a more "relaxed" way to preach religion to a constantly evolving society. Another priest, Father Aderso, from the parish of Bom Jesus in Palmas, Tocantins, in north central Brazil, is known as "Father of the Youth." He is admired for his lack of formalities and close contact with young people. But again his methods have come in for severe criticism from certain areas of the Catholic Church, who resist such extensive changes from tradition. However, Aderso remains committed and has insisted "the Catholic Church urgently needs to renew itself."

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