In English speaking countries, and especially in the United States, there is a distinct separation between church and state. Often it gets to the point where people simply avoid talking about religion altogether. In Latin America, this is quite different. I have experienced this first hand because I was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, during a two year period, in a few Latin American countries. I lived among the native people and did not have any full English conversations for all but two months that I lived there. This is one of the chief reasons I have come to love the Latin people, culture, and Spanish language so much.
In regard to the religion of Latin America, I would guess by my experience that about 90 to 95% of Latin Americans are of the Catholic faith. In Latin America, they take their religion quite seriously. Many are devout church-goers (I would guess more so than in the US) but there are still many who claim to be religious who only go to church a few times a year. Many Latin Americans claim to have dreams and visions about the Virgin Mary and several other Catholic saints.
Unlike the United States, in Latin America the Catholic Church is very involved in the government, the schools, and other civic organizations. There is not a clear separation of church and state like in the U.S.
One of the things that surprised me the most is that in some Latin American countries, they celebrate “mes morado” [mes more-daw-though], or translated into English — “purple month”. Every year in October, some of them dress in their purple “habits” (robes) and wear them during the whole month as a symbol of their religious devotion. Not many of the population do this; I would say about 5 to 10% of the people wore them. Basically, enough people wore them to catch the attention of a foreigner like me.
Another interesting cultural note is that some of the more religiously dedicated people go on “campañas” [com-pawn-yaws] maybe once a year with their religious groups. A “campaña” is a type of religious trek they take. I talked to a few people personally who had been involved with “campañas”; they said they would hike for a few days with a large group of people usually up into a mountain to some sort of religious shrine and then they would pray and worship.
Even though I was a missionary for a different church, I came to respect the Catholic Church and the many Catholics I became good friends with (not to mention all of the people from other religions as well).
Now to change the topic just a little, I saw on the news a while ago a story about a Latin American family living in the U.S; Mixed in with the story was a little Latin girl who claimed to have a vision about the Virgin Mary. To some people not familiar with the Latin culture, the story may have sounded very unusual. However, knowing the Latin culture, you would now realize that this is a fairly common occurrence.
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