Federal republic in NE South America: capital, Brasilia. With Catholics 85% of the population of 161 million, Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. The first Mass was celebrated in 1500, on Easter Sunday, by a priest in the party who claimed possession for Portugal. Evangelization began some years later, and a diocese was erected in 1551.
The Church showed notable progress in the colonial period, especially 1680-1750, even though hampered by government policy. The Church and government had contrary goals as regarding the Amazon Indians, whom the government was exploiting and reducing to slavery.
In 1782, the Jesuits were suppressed, and other missionaries expelled as well. Liberal anti-clerical influence grew, and the government tightened control on the Church. After Brazil declared independence from Portugal, in 1822, government control became even tighter, under the new emperors (Pedro I & II, son and grandson of the King of Portugal). In 1891, Brazil became a republic and approved a constitution which freed the Church from state control.
In the 20th century, the Church has faced other problems, such as theological liberalism, and an unorthodox mixing of Catholic ritual with rites from other sources. Church-sponsored advocates of land reform have faced harassment and murder. Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to make an Apostolic Visit to Brazil in May 2007.
Heroes of the Faith