Nicaragua – Republic in Central
America: capital, Managua. Evangelization
began in 1524, shortly after the Spanish conquest. In 1532, the
first bishop took jurisdiction in that country. Jesuits were the
leaders in mission work in the colonial period, which last till
the 1820s. After
Nicaragua became a republic (1838), evangelization intensified,
reaching the Atlantic coastline.
In the second half of the 20th century, some
Church leaders were supportive of Marxist-type revolutions, here
and elsewhere in South America, justifying their support by
"liberation theology." 2,500 Nicaraguans were killed
by Hurricane Mitch, despite an influx of aid, Church leaders
predicted an increase in poverty for the nation. Catholics are 89% of the population.
Panama – Republic in Central
America: capital, Panama City. The Panama diocese is
the oldest in the Americas. It was set up in 1514, with the
arrival of Franciscan missionaries. The Catholic Church has favored status, though all religions are
free. Catholics are 84% of the population.
Paraguay – Republic in central South
America: capital, Asunción. Evangelization began in 1542. The
first diocese was erected in 1547, though not
occupied till 1556. In 1609 the Jesuits came and devised the
"reductions" system of evangelization, organizing
Indians into communities where they learned agriculture,
husbandry, and trades. The Spanish government was suspicious of
these communities, fearing a threat to the colonial system, but they
continued till 1768, when the Jesuits were expelled from Latin America.
After independence in 1811, the government still tried to control
the Church by nominating its leadership. Since the end of the 19th
century, the Church has suffered the same problems as neighboring
countries, poverty, lack of education, anticlericalism, and a shortage
of priests. Catholics are 86% of the population.
Peru – A republic on the west coast of South
America: capital, Lima.
Christianity was introduced with Pizarro's conquest of the Incas
in 1532. The first diocese was established five year later.
The 16th and 17th centuries saw intense missionary activity,
deteriorating somewhat toward the end of the colonial period,
in the 1820s. The first native-born saint of the new world was Rose of Lima,
a Dominican tertiary who died in 1617, and was canonized in 1671.
Following independence, the government continued to try to control
the Church, as under patronage rights of the Spanish crown. It suppressed
religious houses and seized Church property, while the people showed
hostility toward the Church and religious indifferentism.
Liberation theology was born in Peru, under the leadership of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. During
the Maoist conflict of the 1980s &
early 90s, Church workers were attacked from both sides, though a
Peruvian cardinal helped bring both sides together. Catholics
are 89% of the population.
Puerto Rico – US commonwealth, smallest of
Antilles, SE of the southern coast of Florida: capital, San
Juan. Discovered by
Columbus in 1493, it was evangelized by Spanish missionaries and
remained under Spain’s ecclesiastical and political control
until 1898, when it became a possession of the US. The diocese of San
Juan was established in 1511. The present hierarchy was established
Catholics are 78% of the population.
Saint Lucia – Independent island state in
the West Indies: capital, Castries.
Catholics are 63% of the population.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Independent state in
the West Indies: capital, Kingstown in St. Vincent. The Kingstown diocese,
formerly a part of the Bridgetown-Kingstown Diocese in Barbados,
was established in 1989. Diplomatic relations with the Vatican
were established in 1990. Catholics are 9% of the population.
Surinam – A state in northern South America, formerly
Dutch Guiana: capital, Paramaribo. It became independent in 1975. Catholicism was
introduced in 1683 by the Spanish. Evangelization began in 1817.
Catholics are 23% of the population.
Trinidad and Tobago –
An independent nation of two islands
in the Caribbean: capital, Port-of-Spain. Missionary ventures launched in the 16th
century resulted in the death of a number of missionaries. The
first Catholic church in Trinidad was built in 1591. Capuchins
worked there from 1618 to 1802. Missionary work continued after
the British took control. Relations between Church and state are
cordial, both of which want more native clergy. Catholics are 30% of
United States – Republic in
the southern portion of North America: capital, Washington DC. In the 16th century, missionaries from Spain
evangelized Indians in the southeast and southwest. The first parish
was in St. Augustine, FL, which was settled in 1565. Most noted among
Spanish missionaries was Bl. Junipero Serra, who founded nine
missions in California. French missionaries started in Canada,
but reached the northeast, areas around the Great Lakes, and
south along the Mississippi River. Many were martyred, both
French and Spanish. Catholics were excluded by law from English settlements along
the Atlantic coast. The only English colony
under Catholic leadership was Maryland, granted to George
Calvert (Lord Baltimore). There an Act of Toleration (1649)
guaranteed religious freedom, until it was suspended in 1688.
Then Maryland became a royal colony, and Catholics were
disenfranchised and persecuted until 1776. Despite their small
numbers, Catholics made significant contributions to American
independence. In 1789, religious freedom was guaranteed under
the First Amendment to the Constitution, but discriminatory laws
remained in some states well into the 19th century.
In 1784, Fr John Carroll was appointed as superior of
American missions, in a first step toward organizing the Church.
He was made the first American bishop in 1790, with a diocese
covering the US. In 1808, he was made archbishop, with Baltimore
as a metropolitan see. There were four other dioceses. The first
seminary was St. Mary’s established 1791 in Baltimore. Clergy also
arrived from France and elsewhere.
In education, a Catholic school was founded at Georgetown,
which later became the first Catholic university. Many Catholic
elementary schools were opened in the 1840s, at the same time as
the public school system was getting started. Educational and charitable
institutions were developed primarily by women religious, notably Ursuline and
Visitation nuns. The first contemplative house was founded at
Fort Tabacco MD by American-born Carmelites. The first community
of American origin, Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, was
founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born
Anti-Catholic bigotry rose and fell in the 19th
and 20th centuries, stirred by the influx of
Catholic immigrants. From less than 1% of the population in
1784, by the 1860s, the Catholic Church had become the largest
religious body in the US. Immigration in the 1890s brought many
Eastern-rite Catholics. They didn’t have their own bishops,
and some were moved to defect because of insensitive treatment
by the Latin-rite hierarchy. The first Byzantine-rite bishop in
the US was ordained in 1907.
In 1852-1884, three plenary councils met in Baltimore, at
which regulations were drawn up for many aspects of life in the
Church in America, from fine points of ritual to general
education. The last of the three councils produced the Baltimore
Catechism, which became basic to American religious instruction.
The Civil War had Catholics fighting on both sides, and
sisterhoods serving the wounded on both sides. Integration of
emancipated Catholic slaves into the larger Community was left
to individual bishops, who tended to conform to local custom.
In 1900, Catholics made up 16% of the total population, with
82 dioceses in 14 provinces, and 12,000 priests. The Church in
the US was removed from mission status in 1908. The first seminary
for training missionaries to other countries began to operate in
1909, in Techny IL, under the Society of the Divine Word. Maryknoll,
the first American missionary society, was founded in 1911. In
the first half of the 20th century, Catholics
increasingly assumed roles in the mainstream of American life, until
1960, when a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president.
In the years following Vatican II, there were major changes
in the Church in the US. Liturgy was simplified and translated
from Latin to English. Lay participation in ministry increased,
and the number of priests and religious declined. Ecumenical
dialogue with other religions was given new impetus,
strengthening the hope of eventual unity among all Christians.
Catholics now make up 22.8% of the total population.
Uruguay – Republic on SE coast of South
America: capital, Montevideo.
Evangelization followed Spanish settlement in 1624. Montevideo
became a diocese in 1878. Missionaries followed the reduction
pattern of gathering Indians into communities, training them in
agriculture, husbandry, and other arts, while forming them in
the Faith. The constitution of 1830 made Catholicism the religion of the
state and subsidized missions to Indians. The constitution of 1917
enacted separation of Church and state. Catholics are 75% of
Venezuela – Republic in northern South
America: capital, Caracas.
Evangelization began in 1513, with various religious orders
working in different areas. Nearly 350 towns originated as
missions. The first diocese was formed in 1531. Though many missionaries
were killed, missions were effective until the turmoil following wars of
independence in the 19th century. The
missions began to operate again in 1922. Catholics are 89% of
Virgin Islands (US) – US territory in
the Atlantic: capital, Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. The Islands
were discovered by Columbus in 1493, and named for St. Ursula and her
virgin companions. Evangelization began in the 16th
century. From 1804 to 1820, the Islands were under the jurisdiction of
the Baltimore Archdiocese. From there they were transferred to successive jurisdictions, until 1858, when
they came under the pastoral care of the Redemptorists. Catholics
are 29% of the population.