THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES IN LATIN AMERICA
- Christianity is still a very important part of Latin American identity but the Roman Catholic Church now plays a less important role within that. Some question how long Latin America will continue to be a predominantly Catholic region. In 1910, 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic; by 2010, this was reduced to 72%.
- Huge increase in the proportion of Pentecostal Churches. Despite early involvement of US missionaries, growth over last 40-50 years has been a particularly Latin American phenomenon. Growth rates are particularly high in Brazil, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Brazil is still the largest Catholic population in the world (123 million) but Pentecostals now 43 million and gaining about 600,000 per year. 38% of Guatemalans are Pentecostal.
- Members of Pentecostal Churches are imbued with energy and drive. They stress self-help and the belief that, by choosing certain patterns of behaviour, a person can bring about improvement in their circumstances in this life. They offer a sense of belonging within a community and can provide some structure and order to those who would otherwise be lost in the chaos of the modern changing world. Strongest support lies in the poorer communities but they have broadened their appeal to the urban middle classes.
- The Pentecostal community are increasingly involved in politics but do not identify with a particular ideology. Their belief in self-improvement and actively taking responsibility for changing conditions could eventually have an impact on the style of Latin America’s politics.
- The Catholic Church is still a significant source of social and welfare services such as hospitals, schools, and soup kitchens (often virtually sole providers because of limited state capacity). It is prepared to criticise some of the harshest consequences of globalisation and speak out against government policies that cause poverty and social tensions. It is involved in debates over environment, corruption, indigenous rights and plays a key role in mediation and in reducing levels of violence.
- The election of a Latin American Pope will provide huge boost to the confidence of the Catholic Church in the region but might not reverse the rise of Pentecostalism.
- All the Churches are losing influence in the debate over social issues but still remain amongst the most trusted and respected institutions in Latin America.
- Latin American Christianity is having impact beyond the region. Liberation Theology and Pentecostalism offer lessons that can be applied elsewhere in the world. Latin American immigrants in North America and Europe will influence Churches in the host communities. Pentecostal Churches are sending missionaries to rest of the world with the aim of conversion.
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