The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

Excerpt

Presenting the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America is a mammoth undertaking. Few would doubt that Catholicism is the single most important institution in the region if for no other reason than it is perhaps the only one that has remained central to most peoples’ lives over a period of some five hundred years. Yet to try to tell the story of this institution on two continents involving millions of people and five centuries is an extremely difficult task. In order to begin to come to grips with it, one must look for the themes that run throughout the whole story while examining the individual pieces as they develop.

First of all Latin America is a region poorly understood and difficult to define. The region of the Americas consists of two continents, North and South America, divided at Panama. In general, Latin America refers to those countries on the American continents that speak a language based in Latin. Using this rubric, then, a case might be made for Quebec to be considered a Latin American region: it is in North America and most of the inhabitants speak French. Nevertheless, in practical use, the region known as Latin America tends to be those areas settled by the Spanish and Portuguese, and not the French, although a case might be made for French Guiana, located on the northeast coast of South America. Yet, its history is quite different from that of its neighbors, such as Venezuela and Brazil, and so French Guiana is usually excluded. Consequently the term “Latin American” usually refers to those regions where Spanish or Portuguese predominate

The other area of difficulty is the Caribbean. The largest islands (Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico) were all first settled by the Spanish. Yet the smaller islands, known collectively as the Lesser Antilles, were not heavily exploited by the Spanish, and consequently in the eighteenth century other European powers claimed them, as the world’s demand for sugar increased and these islands were perfect for sugar cultivation. The Caribbean region has a very different history from the mainland. Cuba and half of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, do have some similarities with main-

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