A Transplanted Faith

Catholicism in Latin America

The Catholic Church’s greatest evangelizing project began on January 6, 1494. On that date—the Feast of the Epiphany—a few Franciscan missionaries on the island of Hispaniola held the continent’s first Mass.

That modest ceremony set off a spectacular half-millennium of growth for the church in Latin America: by 2004, there were more than 450 million Catholics in the region (approximately 80 percent of the total population), and Catholicism has proved to be the most persistent religion in Latin America’s five-hundred-year history. Yet at the same time, the future of Latin American Catholicism is more uncertain than ever, thanks to increasing secularization, migration, growing evangelical Protestantism, and other challenges.

Several new books assess that complicated past, as well as the church’s changing present and uncertain future. John Frederick Schwaller’s The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond (NYU Press, $35, 328 pp.) and John Lynch’s New Worlds: A Religious...

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About the Author

Julia G. Young is a historian of Mexico and Latin America at the Catholic University of America.