Religions and Churches in Bolivia

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Churches abound in Bolivia and Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. According to the last census (2001) over 90% of Bolivians consider themselves Catholic, although many other religions are present in Bolivia.

churches in santa cruz bolivia

The Catholic Church in Bolivia

During the colonial period Spanish Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit priests accompanied the first Spanish colonists to establish a Catholic presence in the New World and convert the native populations to Christianity. Spain and the Vatican entered into a covenant called the Patronato Real, which gave the Spanish throne (and the authorities they appointed in the colonies) power over religious issues in the newly founded colonies.

The church, in turn, was a very wealthy institution and dominant financial power, owning extensive areas of real estate. It became the largest money-lending institution used by upper-class landowners and high-ranking government officials. Thus church and state were inseparable for many reasons and are still not separate in Bolivia.

It greatly influences politics even today, and government representatives quite often consult with religious leaders prior to making policies. Religious representatives frequently intervene as mediators when special interest groups and the government find themselves at an impasse. Many national holidays are traditional Roman Catholic holidays. There are currently organized 4 archdioceses (La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, and Santa Cruz), mostly in urban areas.

In rural areas indigenous rituals are quite often mixed with Catholic beliefs. Indigenous groups, relegated to virtual slavery to the Spanish over the span of three centuries, were ministered to (and often obligated to convert) by priests from various Catholic orders who taught them to read and write, build and carve ornate mission compounds and schools, and cultivate gardens and orchards. They were also taught to make musical instruments and play beautiful baroque music (maybe you’ve seen the movie “The Mission?”). However, most indigenous groups proudly held on to their own beliefs and deities and simply integrated Catholicism into their own indigenous rituals, making for an interesting mix.

Other Churches and Missions in Bolivia

Followers of non-Catholic faiths have not always been warmly welcomed. Protestants were generally considered infidels and un-Christian and, because they emphasize personal salvation and are not greatly involved in socio-political issues, members of Protestant Christian denominations and those of other faiths have, in the past, even been accused of being undercover agents of the U.S. government.

Nevertheless, over the past 100 years Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, and others have established missions, schools, language institutes, universities, seminaries, medical centers, television and ministries and publishing houses in Bolivia.

Christian Protestants of various denominations are alive and well today, and thrive among the younger generations, the severely underprivileged, and in rural areas.

World Mission Prayer League ministers to marginalized populations through television and radio from its hilltop station in remote Caranavi.

The Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission teaches simple techniques for drilling water wells through its Agua Yaku project in Santa Cruz. For information on this project contact Dr. Daniel Beams.

The Bahá'í community also has a strong presence in Bolivia and is well-known for its NUR University in Santa Cruz. Over 1% of Bolivians practice the Bahá'í faith making for one of the largest concentrations of Bahá'í practitioners in the world.

The Mennonites have well-established communities in rural areas of Santa Cruz and Tarija, and are quite successful farmers and merchants.

The Mormons have built dozens of temples in Bolivia's major cities. One of the largest in the world is the Mormon Temple in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Jim Cottrill, a missionary with CAM International, has created a website called that lists and gathers information on hundreds of blogs created by missionaries around the globe. Visit his site, list your blog, meet and contact other missionaries and learn about the work they are doing in Bolivia and worldwide.

English-Speaking Churches in Bolivia



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