The New Evangelization - America












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 the Greater 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 in 1960. 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 the population.


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 canonized saint.

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 the population.


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 the population.


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.

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