Mexican Religion Shapes Culture
Throughout the world, the expansion of religion has significantly influenced the development of humanity in many different ways. Religion is an organized collection of belief and cultural systems with world views that relate humanity to spirituality and moral values (dictionary.com). Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to explain the origin of the Universe and give a convincing meaning to life. It was Hernan Cortes who first brought the Catholic Church to Mexico in 1521. His expedition, which included a friar named Bartolome de Olmedo and a priest named Juan Diaz, was mandated to convert the Indians into Christians. After the Spanish conquest, Mexico became colonized which, was helpful in the attempt to influence indigenous people to take on Catholicism. Religion has impacted Mexican societies through their culture, their surroundings and architecture, and their families. Roman Catholicism was established as the dominant, but not official, religion of Mexico. Today, about 89% of Mexicans still identify themselves by this division of Christian religion. The 2000 census reported that Mexico had some 101,000,000 Catholics among the population aged five and above. This equates to about 91% of their total population, making it the second largest Roman Catholic country in the world. The Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, and is its largest religious grouping. Catholicism influences people in many countries, and in Mexico this influence is no less apparent.
Though not everyone in Mexico is Catholic, religion seems to maintain a social order. Mexican Catholics take the many rules of Catholicism very seriously. In the article “The Catholic Church in Mexico: Triumphs and Traumas”, Shep Lencheck claims, “As of this moment the Church remains a unifying force in the private lives of Mexicans. It is the one constant in the changing and sometimes chaotic Mexican scene” (Lencheck 1). Thus, Catholicism is an ever present aspect in the lives of many Mexicans. Statistics show that almost 50 percent of Mexico’s population attends weekly mass at their local church. This weekly mass isn’t the only Catholic part of Mexican culture. Many ceremonies, including baptisms, confirmations, and weddings revolve around the Catholic Church. These events become more than just a religious ceremony but they are turned into a social event or community celebration with family and friends regardless the religion professed. A persons journey through religion is celebrated and all events from baptisms to weddings come with a party where religion is integrated into the social lives of many.
The majority of society is scared to act upon certain sins in fear of the unknown (Hell). In the Catholic religion it is believed that sins of great evil are mortal sins-which bring the dire consequence of going to hell if unrepented for. In the bible a fear of God is clearly demanded, “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them,” (Psalm 25:14) This states that in order to be a good Catholic, one must have a fear of God. This fear is instilled in Catholics from the moment they join the religion. They are told that in order to guarantee themselves eternal life they must have a personal covenant relationship with God. Part of this relationship includes following the rules of the religion to ensure a pathway to eternal life. Sin can also be viewed as anything that violates the ideal relationship between an individual and god. If one does not believe they will also receive consequences, “Hell will also punish the sin of those who reject Christ” (Matthew 13:41) So whether you believe or not, committing sins leads to the ultimate punishment. This fear of Hell keeps many Catholics from breaking their covenant with God. The Catholic Church holds great power over their followers. As its own arbiter, the Catholic Church accepts no authority as being higher than itself. In the mid 1960s, Mexico experienced a population growth that instantly became a problem. The increasing population added to social inequalities and put pressure on job creation and emigration. In “Latina Sexuality, Reproduction, and Fertility as a Threat to the Nation.”, author Leo Chavez explains the population boom in Mexico.
Mexico’s high fertility rate was the result of an unusually pronatalist cultural tradition, which meant that Mexicans placed an abnormally high value on having children. Because of machismo and Marianosmo, the argument went, men are dominant and women were submissive, and having more children increase the social status of both. Motherhood is viewed as an essential purpose for a woman’s existence. (Chavez 535) These trends in procreation were very strong in the Mexican culture. The church had their own reaction to this population boom and in 1972 the Catholic Church called for reduced family size, and has promoted family planning clinics and education programs. This shows how the Catholic Church rules over everything, even things as uncontrollable as social trends. No matter where you go, you will always see some sort of solicitation about religion. It could be door to door solicitation, over the radio, on television, advertisements on billboards, or even on clothing. Not only is religion everywhere and impractical to avoid, most of the solicitation revolves around begging. More specifically, in the late 160Os, the brothers and mothers of the church would travel throughout the neighborhoods soliciting funds for their masses, sick comrades, and the like. In Nicole Von Germeten’s work called Black Blood Brothers: Confraternities and Social Mobility for Afro- Mexicans, she shows how public solicitation was a prominent feature of Afro-Mexican Catholicism during the seventeenth century, The comrades petitioned support on a large scale, dispatching numerous members to diverse locations consistently each week and on religious holidays. These initiatives proved remarkably lucrative.
For instance, records for the Incarnation and Saint Biaises, a sizable seventeenth century Black confraternity of Valladolid, indicate that begging accounted for nearly all of the funding for the group’s activities. (Von Germeten, pp. 111) Their success is exceptional, which is common among the institutions, which points to the generosity of the colonists and to their respect for the organizations within the Catholic faith. The Mexican people were involved in the creation of the Catholic Church in Mexico from the beginning. They supported the church and provided the funds for the religion to grow within their cities and surroundings.
Whether a house is small and rural or large and urban, crosses, rosaries, and small candles honoring Jesus or Our Lady of Guadalupe decorate most homes in Mexico. Icons such as these are mainly used for worship and have great significance to Catholics. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a recognized symbol for all Mexican Catholics and was used in the struggle for independence against the Spanish.
“The most important icon of Mexican national culture is the Virgin of Guadalupe, which illustrates the pervasive influence of Roman Catholicism in the national culture. She is viewed as the “mother” of all Mexicans. The dark-skinned Virgin is the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary and as such represents national identity as the product of the mixing of European and Meso-American religions and peoples.” (everyculture) This icon represents Mexico as a whole and shows just how large an influence Catholicism has had on Mexico. With the display of icons such as the Lady of Guadalupe, the home becomes an expression of the religion of the family. There are about 5000-7000 churches in the entire country. Even in the Prehispanic Period, Mexican architecture focused mainly on places of worship including the pyramids and temples of the indigenous. Catholicism has found its way into the architecture of many cities in mexico including Mexico City. One of the most visited buildings is The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the outskirts of Mexico City. This Church has become such a facet of Mexican Architecture that, according to The Catholic News Agency, even our former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited the shrine, “During her recent visit to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unexpected stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and left a bouquet of white flowers ‘on behalf of the American people,’”(CNA). This Catholic Church is a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as a very popular tourist and religious attraction. The Shrine welcomes tens of thousands of visitors annually. Religion has integrated itself so deeply into Mexican architecture that most tourist attractions are religious based.
The strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion and in the eyes of most Mexicans, family is valued greatly. Family is the essence of Mexican life. Most families are very closely knit and it is not unfamiliar to see three or more generations living together in the same household. But religion is what holds these families together so tightly. Country Facts points out how religion holds the Mexican family together,
“The Mexican people are quite religious and they have important religious events the whole year round on which the families get together to celebrate. Amongst the important dates for the Mexican families are the 12th of December which is known as the Nuestra senora de Guadalupe. The
24th and 25th of December are important dates according to the Christian traditions.”(Country Facts 2) The biggest holidays for Mexican families are religion based. Families get together to celebrate their religion and also to celebrate their family. Religion and family go hand in hand in Mexico and these events are used to keep even extended family as closely knit as possible.
Mexican families sometimes make pilgrimages to The Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe. A pilgrimage, defined by The Modern Catholic Dictionary, is a journey to a sacred place undertaken as an act of religious devotion. Its purpose may be simply to venerate a certain saint or ask some spiritual favor; beg for physical cure or perform an act of penance; express thanks or fulfill a promise. In The Houston Chronicle, journalist Dudley Althaus reports on Mexican pilgrimages, “tens of thousands of Mexico’s Roman Catholic faithful will travel narrow and hazardous two-lane highways through central Mexico’s cold highlands to the Basilica of The Virgin of Guadalupe.” (Althaus). Most who embark on this journey do not do so alone. Many families will make a pilgrimage together in order to prove their faithfulness or to ask for a blessing for the family. Families who make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe do so for different reasons. The upper classes travel out of tradition, and the poorer classes more likely do so for specific material requests for themselves or others.
Prayer has played a vital role in religion for many years throughout history. Mexican families will often pray during meals or privately in their separate rooms before bed. A few reasons why they pray is because it is very relaxing, because they want to thank God, and some even pray solely because they want something. In the Catholic religion praying is crucial for a close, personal relationship with God. One Bible verse states: ”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 NAB). Prayer has a positive impact on family unity and connectedness, which Mexicans are universally drawn to. This belief in prayer resounds in the heart of every Mexican, convinced that it is a source of strength and protection.
Religion has impacted Mexican societies through their culture, their surroundings and architecture, and their families. Roman Catholicism was established as the dominant, but not official, religion of Mexico. Today, about 89% of Mexicans still identify themselves by this division of Christian religion. Throughout the world, the expansion of religion has significantly influenced the development of humanity in many different ways.
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