Roman Catholicism in Brazil
Brazil's strong Roman Catholic heritage can be traced to the
Iberian missionary zeal, with the fifteenth-century goal of
spreading Christianity to the infidels. In the New World, these
included both Amerindians and African slaves. In addition to
conversion, there were also strong efforts to enforce compliance
with Roman Catholicism, including the Inquisition, which was
not established formally in Brazil but nonetheless functioned
widely in the colonies. In the late nineteenth century, the
original Roman Catholic populace of Iberian origin was reinforced
by a large number of Italian Catholics who immigrated to Brazil,
as well as some Polish and German Catholic immigrants.
According to all the constitutions of
the republican period, there is no state or official religion.
In practice, however, separation of church and state is weak.
Government officials generally avoid taking action that may
offend the church.
Brazil is said to be the largest Roman
Catholic country in the world. In 1996 about 76 percent of the
population, or about 122 million people, declared Roman Catholicism
as their religion, as compared with 89 percent in 1980. The
decline may have resulted from a combination of a real loss
of influence and a tendency to be more objective in answering
census questions about religion.
As in most dominant religions, there
is some distance between nominal and practicing Catholics. Brazilians
usually are baptized and married in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, according to the CNBB (National Conference of Brazilian
Bishops), only 20 percent of nominal Catholics attend Mass and
participate in church activities, but the figure may be as low
as 10 percent. Women attend Mass more often than men, and the
elderly are more active in church than the young. In the 1990s,
charismatic forms of Catholicism used unconventional approaches,
along the line of those used by Pentecostal Protestant groups,
to attempt revitalization and increase active participation.
Popular or traditional forms of Catholicism
are widespread in the interior of the country. Many Brazilians
pray to figures such as Padre Cícero (a revered priest
who lived in Ceará from 1844 to 1934), make pilgrimages
to the site of the appearance of Brazil's patron saint, our
Lady of the Appearance (Nossa Senhora Aparecida), and participate
in traditional popular rites and festivities, such as the Círio
in Belém and the Festa do Divino in central Brazil. Some
use expressions of religious origin, such as asking for a blessing
on meeting someone older or responding "God willing"
(Se Deusquiser ) when someone says "See you tomorrow."
During the 1970s, the progressive wing
of the church made an "option for the poor." They
were influenced by the doctrine of liberation theology (see
Glossary), in which Brazilian theologians such as Leonardo Boff
played a leading role, and followed the decision of the Latin
American Bishops' Conference in Medellín, Colombia, in
1968. The church organized Ecclesiastical Base Communities (Comunidades
Eclesiais de Base--CEBs; see Glossary) throughout the country
to work for social and political causes at the local level.
During the military regime, the progressive clergy managed to
make the church practically the only legitimate focus of resistance
and defense of human rights. In the early 1990s, conservative
forces, supported by Pope John Paul II, gained power in the
Source: U.S. Library of Congress
See also http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
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