Why Is South America Largely Catholic?
South America is largely Roman Catholic because the continent was first discovered and opened up by explorers from the strongly Roman Catholic countries of Spain and Portugal. Venezuela was the first of the South American countries to be colonized by the Spaniards.
Christopher Columbus discovered it on his third voyage in 1498, and settlers soon followed in the early 16th Century. Uruguay, discovered by the Spanish explorer, Juan Diaz de Solis, in 1515 was claimed over the years-until its independence in 1830-by both the Portuguese in Brazil and the Spanish in Argentina. Brazil, although first discovered by a Spaniard in 1500, was declared a possession of the Portuguese crown in the same year by Pedro Alvares Cabral.
In the early 16th Century, Colombia and Ecuador were also conquered by the Spanish. IN 1532, Francisco Pizarro added to the Spanish dominions by the conquest of Peru and its Inca Empire, which at that time included much of what is now Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador.
Paraguay was claimed for Spain by Sebastian Cabot in 1526. The Spanish captain, Pedro de Mendoza, established a settlement on the site of what is now Buenos Aires in 1536. Although this was soon burnt down by Indians, Juan de Garay and other Spanish settlers reestablished the settlement in 1580 and gave it the name Santos Trinidad y Puerto de Santa Maria de Buenos Aires. (This long name which means Holy Trinity and Harbour of our Lady of Kind Winds,) was soon shortened to Buenos Aires.
This history of the Spanish and Portuguese control in South America is one of oppression and exploitation. In the early 19th Century, the colonies revolted and established republics. One of the strongest forces remaining from the centuries of colonial domination is the vital Roman Catholic faith of the conquistadores-the conquerors.
Except for Suriname and Uruguay, the more professed religion in the South American countries is the Catholic religion. While countries such as Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and Argentina more than three quarters of the population is Catholic, in Chile is 57%.
Catholicism was the only religion allowed in the colonial era, the indigenous were forced to abandon their beliefs, although many did not abandon it at all, for example, countries with predominantly Amerindian population such as Bolivia and Peru there is a syncretism between indigenous religions and the Catholic religion, that has occurred since colonial times. In Brasil or Colombia, Catholicism was mixed with certain African rituals.