Religious beliefs in Venezuela
Venezuela officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a federal country situated on the northern coast of South America. Colombia borders the republic on the west, Guyana to the east, Brazil on the south, and Trinidad and Tobago islands on the north-east. The country covers a total area of 916,445 km², its population is estimated to be around 33,221,865 and its capital city is Caracas.
About 88% of the entire population practices Christian religious beliefs. 71% of them practice the Roman Catholic faith and the remaining 17% practice Protestantism. Other religious beliefs in the country include Islam, Buddhism, and Jewish Faith.
It is worth noting that Venezuela’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as a faith does not go against good custom or public order. With this is mind, the religious beliefs in Venezuela will be discussed in brief below.
Catholicism in Venezuela
As mentioned above, about 71% of the country’s population practice the Catholic faith. The Catholic Church in Venezuela is a segment of the global Roman Catholic Church that is under the spiritual guidance of the Pope, the Curia in Rome, and the Venezuelan Bishops Conference. There are a total of 34 dioceses inclusive of 8 archdioceses in the country and also distinguished jurisdictions for believers and followers of the Syrian and Melkite rites. The faith dates all the way back to the colonial period when the country was colonized by Spain. Catholic churches can be found throughout the country and the most remarkable cathedrals are situated in Caracas and other big cities. There are other smaller Catholic churches in smaller towns and most of these have a magnificent colonial architectural style.
The faith very much adopts the guiding principles of the Roman hierarchy. Masses are held every day but attendance is only mandatory on Sunday. Masses are now conducted in Spanish and not Latin and the priests who are males only now face the public unlike before when the ritual was celebrated with their backs to the people. Is it believed that the mass recreates the last supper Jesus had with his apostles before he was crucified. It is believed that the ritual transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ and should be shared and taken by everybody and anyone who is free of mortal sin.
It is important to note that the Catholic Church in the country has not been a key political force in the country, unlike the military. The Church has also become weak due to lack of vocations. Most of the priests in the country are not native but foreigners. The Church is also not that prominent in the country as it has been in its neighbouring country, Colombia.
A new type of church has erupted from Catholicism in the country. This is the Reformed Catholic Church of Venezuela. It is a member of the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in Latin-America, a section of the worldwide Orthodox Anglican Communion, and has gained acknowledgment from the Conservative Anglican Church of North America. The faith is, therefore, not a branch of the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion. This faith was started in June 2008 by Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics who were in opposition of the ban on married priests. The faith has, however, been criticized by high-ranking clergymen and they have urged people to steer clear of the church.
Protestantism in Venezuela
About 17% of the country’s population practices Protestantism, especially Evangelism. This faith maintains that the real meaning of the gospel is found in the principle of salvation by grace via faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. The faith believes in the centrality of the ‘born again’ experience in obtaining salvation, in the power of the Bible as God’s revelation to humankind, and spreading the word of God.
This faith has been growing steadily in the country mostly as a result of the leftist President Hugo Chavez whose administration clashed a lot with the Catholic Church. The Church opposed the government and Chavez, in turn, accused the Church of elitism. The faith is considered to be a ‘religion of the poor’ as it gives hope to the desperate poor in the country. Most of the poor people are now turning to this religious belief as it offers the help, community, and hope for a better life. Many believers are converting from the Catholic Church and most of these find their material and spiritual needs met in a manner that the church has not yet learnt to do.
This religious belief is more in touch with contemporary life as it allows people who are divorced to remarry, something which is still prohibited by the Catholic Church. The faith also gives its converts new identities as they feel acknowledged by God and every other person.
The faith encourages its believers to take part in bible study, organize meetings and prayer groups, perform in the choir, or take part in any other church activity. This enables the believers to feel an attachment to their church thus enabling them to get a sense of belonging.
Islam in Venezuela
There are about 100,000 Muslims in the country and they make up 0.4% of Venezuela’s population. Most of them are Arabs of Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese descent and Turkish and they all practice the Islam faith. Caracas has a total Muslim populace of 15,000. The city is also home to the Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim Mosque which is the second largest Mosque in the whole of Latin America. There are other notable Mosques and Islamic institutions in the country such as Centro Islámico de Maiquetía in Vargas, Centro Islámico de Venezuela, Isla Margarita-Caribe La Comunidad IslámicaVenezolana, the Mezquita al-Rauda in Maracaibo, The Asociación Benéfica Islámica in Bolivar, and the Asociación Honorable Mezquita de Jerasalén in Valencia. Margarita Island is home to a huge population of the Muslim community. Some reside in Caracas, Punto Fijo, and in the Nueva Esparta state.
Judaism in Venezuela
This religious belief is practiced by the Jewish population in the country. The community has been present in the country since the 17th century. It is also believed that a number of Sephardi Jews migrated into the country after the inquisition in the 16th century. Ashkenazi Jews migrated to Venezuela in the 20th century while escaping the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Presently, the total population of people practicing this faith is roughly 13,000 and are mostly found in Caracas. There are two main synagogues where this population gets to practise its faith. These are Synagogue of Caracas and Hejal de la Asociacion Bet El.
Buddhism in Venezuela
Buddhism faith is practiced by more than 52,000 people in Venezuela. The believers are mainly of Korean, Japanese and Chinese descent and they all identify themselves with the Mahayana tradition which reflects the religious heritage of their expatriate states. There are Buddhist centres in the country in a number of cities such as Valencia, Caracas, San Felipe, Maracay, Puerto Ordáz, and Mérida.
Santeria can also be referred to as La Regla de Ifá, Regla de Ochá or Lucumi and it’s a religion of the Caribbean origin that sprang up in the Spanish Empire among slaves from West Africa. The faith combines features of Yoruba myths that were brought to the country by slaves from Yoruba, together with local American and Christianity traditions. Some of the religious beliefs carried by the slaves were animal sacrifice, trance and divination system for talking with deities and ancestors, and dance and sacred drumming.
This faith does not use a main creed for its spiritual practices but is understood through its ceremonies and rituals. The ceremonies and rituals are conducted in a house-temple or casa de santos, also referred to as ilé. The ilés are found in the homes o priests and priestesses who have been initiated. The priests and priestesses are responsible for constructing ilé shrines.
Santeria is practised mostly by people of West African descent in the country.
Most people in Venezuela believe in Maria Lionza. This is a religious belief that was developed in the 19th century and it is now becoming more popularly in the country due poverty and increase in crime. The followers of this faith believe that it is possible to call and bring back the souls of dead people into living bodies or ask for suggestions and advice for relatives from those who had disappeared. The rituals of this faith are part Catholic, part voodoo, and part shamanic.
The name Maria Lionza originated from the name Santa Maria de la Onza which means Holy Mary of the jaguar. She is believed to be the queen and is the top symbol of the ‘three powers’. The others are Guaicapuro, an Indian chief murdered by the Spaniards, and Negro Felipe, a black slave murdered by the colonialists. She is believed to be the goddess of nature, peace, harmony, and love.
These are the main religious beliefs in the country. Some Venezuelans, however, have no religion. 6% of these are agnostic and 2% are atheist.
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