Brazil’s Many Religions
Brazil’s population is much more adherent to religion than most Latin American countries. When the Brazilian Constitution was created, in 1889, Brazil did not have an official religion. It, instead, states in their Constitution that all are given the right to absolute freedom of religion. According to the last census (2000), roughly 73.8% of the population declared themselves Roman Catholic. In spite of this dominant religion, there are numerous other religious denominations in Brazil.
Examples of other denominations include Protestant, Pentecostal, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist. There are more than a million and a half Spiritists or Kardescists who follow the doctrines of Allan Kardec. There are also followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a small Jewish population, Muslims, Buddhists, and numerous followers of Candomble and Umbanda.
Recently, there has been a large rise of Neo-Pentecostal churches. This increase has brought down the amount of members in the Roman Catholic Church and the Afro-Brazilian religions. In the most recent census, almost ninety percent of Brazilians declared a religious affiliation.
Brazil currently has the greatest amount of Catholics in the world. Since the start of the 16th century, Roman Catholicism has remained Brazil’s major religion. Jesuit missionaries introduced the religion to the indigenous people of Brazil when they began to inhabit the country. In this era, freedom of religion did not exist. All Portuguese settlers and Brazilians were forced to the Roman Catholic faith and had to pay taxes to the church.
Catholicism in Brazil involves many festivities that come from ancient Portuguese traditions. Common traditions involve pilgrimages to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida (Nossa Senhora Aparecida), the patron saint of Brazil, and religious festivals like the “Círio de Nazaré” in Belém, and the “Festa do Divino” in many cities of Central Brazil. Regions in Brazil that have had a large number of European immigrants have Catholic traditions that are more similar to those practiced in Europe.
The northeast and southern parts of Brazil currently have the largest number of Roman Catholics. The State of Piauí has the greatest amount of Catholics (90.03%) and the State of Rio de Janeiro has the smallest one (56.19%). Among the state capitals, Teresina has the largest proportion of Catholics in the country (86.09%), followed by Aracaju, Fortaleza, Florianópolis, and Joo Pessoa.
Brazil also has numerous branches of Christianity. These include neo-Pentecostalists, old Pentecostalists, and Traditional Protestants mainly from Minas Gerais to the South. The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (part of the Anglican Communion) has roughly 120,000 members. The heart of neo-Pentecostalism is Londrina in Paraná state. Main centers also include the cities of So Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais). Lutherans are concentrated mostly in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Espírito Santo.
When African slaves were brought into Brazil, they introduced their religious traditions to the country. Many of these practices included summoning the gods with chants or dances. Over time, they began to blend with Catholic and Protestant traditions. This has brought about new religions. These Afro-Brazilian religions were once thought to be Satanic. In spite of this, the government legalized all of the religious practices. This was done to divide state from religion.