Costa Ricans - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Costa Ricans take pride in religious tolerance, and support of ecumenism is widespread. The constitution guarantees freedom for all faiths. Catholicism is the dominant and official religion. Different Protestant denominations have relatively large memberships. There are all degrees of belief and practice among Catholics, but, nevertheless, it may be said that their religion permeates Tico culture. Some people become deeply faithful and committed to the church. Others simply express faith in God. The "will of God" is a guiding and explanatory concept. The cult of the saints, as intermediaries between supplicants and God, is a feature of the country's Catholicism. Villages and towns are named for saints, and major celebrations are conducted for each patron saint. Pilgrimages to some of the sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary and Christ on the cross are major events. Religious education is required in the public schools. Women are considered more devout than men. A minority believes in the efficacy of witchcraft in matters relating to love, illness, and misfortune. Clients and practitioners may be accused before the courts, however, because witchcraft is forbidden by law. In this matter, as in established religion, there are degrees of belief and practice.

Religious Practitioners. Costa Rica is organized into four Catholic dioceses, each with a bishop; the bishop of San José is the archbishop. There are diocesan priests and religious orders. Priests are scarce—probably one for about every 6,000 Catholics. In 1979 the first lay deacons were authorized to preach sermons, baptize, and give Communion to the sick in the absence of a priest. There are twenty-six congregations of nuns. In the late twentieth century, training for priests, nuns, and the laity emphasized that religion is concerned not only with prayer, ritual, and salvation but also with social justice, community service, and awareness of—and solutions to—social problems.

Death and Afterlife. When a death occurs, friends and relatives are notified by telephone, by announcements in the newspapers, or by radio stations. Mourners attend a wake at the home of the deceased or at a funeral parlor. Funerals are usually held the day following the death. After the church service, mourners accompany the hearse or pallbearers to the cemetery. Someone may say a few words in praise of the deceased or lead a last prayer just before the coffin is placed in a niche or lowered into the grave. When the coffin is covered, the mourners leave. Religious and memorial ceremonies follow for nine days at home and at church, then every month, and again when a year has passed. Some families make public announcements of memorial masses for a few years after the first one. Black is the color of mourning. On 2 November, the Day of the Dead, flowers are placed on graves. Most people believe the life of the soul is eternal.

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