Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Less and Less Catholic Colombia

Crowds of Bogotanos last night around the Christmas tree on Plaza Bolivar.
A Baptist Church in
central Bogotá.
Christmas is still a huge deal here in Colombia - but, according to a recent survey, it's no longer such a Catholic one.

According to the survey, by the Washington D.C.-based Pew Research Center, Colombia is still one of the region's most Catholic countries, with 79% of the population identifying themselves as Catholic. Paraguay, at 89%, was the most Catholic, and Uruguay, at 42%, the least.

But Colombian Catholics appear to be leaving the religion at the fastest rate. It is the nation with the largest proportion of non-Catholics who were raised as Catholics.

The fastest-growing evangelical churches are Pentecostals, who tend to be fundamentalists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. As a result, the retreat of the generally conservative Catholic Church could mean that many people are becoming even more conservative in their values.

'As Catholics become more liberal on such questions (as gay rights and abortion), that points to looming American-style “culture wars”,' predicts an article in The Economist.

'Jesus Loves You,' say religious activists on Ave. Septima.
The Catholic Church could be losing adherents for various reasons, including scandals and a decreasing number of priests. (But while the Catholic Church has had headline-making scandals, Colombian evangelicals have as well.) In contrast to Catholicism, in many evangelical churches, almost anybody can become a minister, and celibacy is not required. As a result, Protestant churches can evangelize more actively and create a more personal relationship with members.

Protestant churches can be “family-like,” David Stoll, an anthropology professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, told The Economist.

Faith or materialism?
Christmas vendors
crowd Plaza San Victorino. 
The Pew study found a strong correlation between migration and conversion to Protestantism, probably because of the availability of Protestant ministers available to evangelize them. The evangelical churches are also growing most strongly amongst the poor.

The Catholic Church's slide in the region comes despite the popularity of Pope Francis, the church's first pope from Latin America.

Colombia has been officially secular since it created a new Constitution in 1991. However, its precise relationship to Catholicism is still being defined. Secular organizations recently protested the creation of a commemoration day for Madre Laura, a Catholic nun who evangelized indigenous people and in May of this year became Colombia's first Catholic saint. While a high court ruled in favor of creating a holiday honoring the Madre Laura, it stopped short of making her the patron saint of Colombia's teachers.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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