Brazil

Schism in the Roman Catholic Religion

Brazil is the world’s largest Roman Catholic country. More than 80 per cent of the country’s 165 million people identify themselves as Catholics, though now many – perhaps a majority have moved from strict Roman Catholicism to practice Candomble and its variants such as Macumba and Umbanda. Candomble is an African-derived faith, which has particularly strong roots in Salvador, a city of some 2 million inhabitants. What troubles the traditionalists who dominate the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil is Candomble’s belief which merges the identities of African deities and Roman Catholic saints, so that St. George, for instance, is also Ogum, the god of war and metals.

Followers of Candomble, originally created by slaves, were persecuted by both religious and civil authorities throughout Brazil’s colonial period, and continue to be so persecuted today. Even so, the number of Candomble adherents has been growing rapidly across Brazil in recent years, and what was once a lower-class religion has come to be seen as something to be valued as authentically Brazilian. Its increasingly assertive clergy have now begun to demand greater recognition and freedom. The traditionalists within the Church see this trend as “demonic” and they accuse the predominately black Candomble clergy of deviating from the one true faith. Some have closed their church doors to the Candomble, bringing charges that they are now being systematically excluded from the priesthood.

As of this writing, the trend toward more divergence and conflict continues, though cool heads on both sides attempt to resolve differences which have now been going on for more than 500 years.

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