The dominant religion in Latin America since colonial times has been Christianity, to which around 92.5% of the almost 590 million residents profess: around 80% (in relation to baptism) belong to the Catholic Church (corresponds to 41% of Catholics worldwide), over 10% Protestant and around 7% independent churches (including Pentecostals and charismatics in particular). The proportion of Catholic Christians is, however, much lower, since many baptized Catholics de facto belong to one of the Pentecostal churches and congregations that are numerous today in Latin America (strong growth particularly in Brazil and Guatemala); Religious statistics assume that almost 8% of Latin American Christians have such a »dual membership«. Orthodox (0.18%) and Anglican Christians (0.15%) form one v. a. minority created by migration. The numerically largest Orthodox immigrant communities are in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. The proportion of Christian “fringe groups” (Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) is around 1.9%. In addition, around 1% of Latin Americans describe themselves as Christians, but do not belong to any denomination.
The largest non-Christian religious minority are Muslims (0.27%); other non-Christian minorities are the Jews (0.16%), Bahais (0.15%), Hindus (0.13%) and Buddhists (0.13%). The Hindus and Muslims make up large population groups in percentage terms in Guyana, Suriname and in Trinidad and Tobago; the numerically largest Jewish communities are in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela. The number of followers of the non-Christian new religions is estimated at 0.3%. There is also – v. a. in Brazil – numerous followers of European Spiritism (Kardecism), the number of which is given as up to 2.26%. The indigenous population mostly belongs to the Catholic Church, but often combines the Catholic practice of faith with elements of the pre-colonial religions, that have survived among parts of the indigenous population (in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru). Many Latin Americans of African descent practice as Christians (mostly Catholics) at the same time one of those who originated in Latin America Afro-American religions or take part in some of their cult acts: Umbanda, Candomblé, Macumba and the religion of the Yoruba (Xango) in Brazil; Voodoo in Haiti; the religion of the Yoruba (Santería) in Cuba; Rastafarian in Jamaica. – The number of people who either do not belong to any religion or explicitly describe themselves as atheists is 3.37%. The majority of the population in Cuba does not belong to any religious community.
The Christian mission of Latin America began with the colonial conquest. The Catholic Church was closely associated with the ruling Spanish and Portuguese upper classes, but from the outset campaigned against the practices of the conquistadors and for humane treatment of the Indians as well as Indian protection legislation (B. de Las Casas ; Bull “Veritas ipsa” Pope Pauls III.). During the five hundredth anniversary of the evangelization of Latin America in 1992, these events also gave the Catholic Church the opportunity to subject the “light and dark sides” of colonization to a critical view. For centuries, the Catholic Church played a key role in determining political life in Latin America. After gaining independence in the 19th century, she supported the Creole aristocracy and the conservative parties. A legal separation of the state and the Catholic Church did not take place in the majority of Latin American states until the 20th century. Today religious freedom is protected by law in all Latin American states; The state religion is still the Catholic denomination in Costa Rica.
Since the 1930s, there has gradually been a conscious awareness of social injustices and a turn to social issues in individual circles of the Catholic Church. This rethinking manifested itself for the first time at the 1st Latin American Bishops ‘Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1955 (there also founding of the “Latin American Bishops’ Council” [“Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano”, abbreviation CELAM]; in 1959 the “Latin American Union of Religious” [“Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos / as «, abbreviation CLAR]; seat: Bogotá), where individual bishops campaigned for social reforms. This development was reinforced by the Second Vatican Council and the papal social encyclicals.
In the 1960s, according to COUNTRYAAH.COM, groups of priests and laypeople organized in some Latin American countries who campaigned for a change in political and economic structures. Especially under their influence, the course for a reorientation of Latin American theology as liberation theology was set at the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences in Medellín (1968) and Puebla (1979). Since then, Latin American Catholicism has taken on the central concerns of liberation theology and with the base churches Established new church structures, but the clergy (especially the bishops) are still largely conservative and traditional in character. The 4th General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) in 1992 took place against the background of the church’s 500-year presence in Latin America and was dedicated to the main themes of the new evangelization of the South American continent and inculturation, understood as gaining an unmistakably Latin American church identity. The 5th Latin American Bishops’ Conference 2007 in Aparecida (opened by Pope Benedict XVI.) deliberately placed itself in the series of the previous four bishops’ conferences and took up their main themes from the perspective of Latin American Catholicism at the beginning of the 21st century. The main topics were, against the background of the growing influence of Pentecostal-Evangelical free churches in Latin America (especially in Brazil), the renewal of the profile of the Catholic Church as the national church of Latin America and, with a view to the ecclesiastically unacceptable social division of the Latin American societies, that in the Catholic social teaching established solidarity for the poor. The great importance of Latin America for the Catholic world church as a whole was presented by Pope Benedict XVI.in his opening speech with the formulation of the “continent of hope”. It may be seen as a tangible expression of this “hope” that the previous Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was elected as his successor after Benedict resigned from office at the beginning of 2013, is not only the first Pope from Latin America, but also with the choice of his Pope’s name, Francis, the church’s concern for the poor has also written very explicitly in the program.
The immigration of Protestants to and the Protestant mission in Latin America began in the 19th century. The v. a. Missionary activity originating from North America has resulted in the establishment of numerous Protestant churches and communities, the membership of which has been growing rapidly, particularly in recent times. The Latin American Council of Churches (Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias, abbreviation CLAI; seat: Quito), founded in 1982 by over 100 Protestant churches in Huampaní (Peru), has member churches in 20 countries in Latin America. The “Caribbean Conference of Churches”, abbreviation CCC; Spanish “Conferencia de Iglesias del Caribe”; seat: Port of Spain) was founded in 1973 in Kingston (Jamaica) and has 33 member churches. Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States in Central America and the Caribbean and the regional Anglican councils in South America.