Being Catholic in Argentina

My husband and I recently relocated (temporarily) to Mendoza, Argentina.  We’re here to learn Spanish, have a bit of adventure, and to soak up this lovely South American culture.  I’m excited to be in a new country and stumbling around with new versions of Catholicism.  There is this great old church on the corner not too far from our apartment that is celebrating 400 years of the Jesuits in Mendoza.  400 years!!


I have yet to investigate this parish personally, but when I walked by the other day, a gentleman was standing in front of a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, praying.  And yesterday, a woman was holding some sort of vigil (pro-life, maybe?) in front. 


This is new to me.  I haven’t seen people paused outside religious images in the U.S. (though, perhaps I never took the time to notice). Does it mean that there is a richer pious life here in Mendoza than in Juneau, Alaska?  Or does it simply mean I’m paying closer attention?


When I was in graduate school, I worked for The Pluralism Project—we did research on the religious diversity of America and often talked about how to be observers of various religious traditions.  I feel myself needing those same skills here—how do I watch Catholicism here, honestly, without romanticizing it?  How do I be respectful of Catholicism here? What does being U.S. Catholic mean here in Argentina?  I guess, as they say here, voy a ver!

2 thoughts on “Being Catholic in Argentina

  1. The way latin americans express catholicism is very different to other cultures. You will find more religous practices (this not meaning more spiritual), like the one you mention in the article. This represents actually a great problem, because most of the latin american catholics have been raised in an archaic way, so many of them think that “whatever church says its right, and if you don’t believe it, you are probably going to hell” because they have been teach that way. Just my experience, I live in Mexico.


  2. I think Latin Americans tend to express their religion in public much more than Americans. Americans live in a religiously pluralistic society and though we can be very strong in our faith, in order to live respectfully and tolerantly, we tend not be overtly public with our religious actions. Though Evangelical churches are growing at great numbers throughout Latin America, most people are still raised Catholic, though in many cases, I really think that it is much more cultural than spiritual. My experience in several Latin American countries is that the theology behind these public religious practices tends to be very skewed if not condemned theology. I remember one church in Grenada, Nicaragua where there were few to no images of Jesus. There were about 15 gigantic statues and paintings of Mary, and the largest of one covered the tabernacle. One of the longtime pastor missionaries in Guatemala told me plainly that there is a lot of worshiping of Mary and the saints that goes on. There are historical reasons for this (indigenous religions had prominent female gods–translated to worshiping of Mary, and cultural worship of ancestors–translated to worship of the saints by the earliest missionaries.) On islands such as Hispaniola (Dominican Republic/Haiti) where Voodoo is still very prevalent, we would routinely see Voodoo altars and occult practices in people’s yards and homes, but if you asked them about it, (i.e. “What are these for?”) the answer would be “for worshiping (said) saint.” Certainly, there are many very spiritual and devoted people throughout Latin America, but I don’t think that there is a richer piety there. It has just taken different forms as has piety among different generations and ethnic groups in the U.S. certainly has.

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