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Catholicism in Latin America: 5 key facts

Pope Benedict XVI began his second trip to Latin America on March 23, with stops in Mexico and Cuba. Here is a brief history of the Catholic church in the Americas:

A banner with an image of Pope Benedict XVI hangs at the site of a campground set aside for pilgrims ahead of the pope's arrival in Leon, Mexico, Friday.
Alexandre Meneghini/AP
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1. Colonial roots

The Catholic Church’s presence in Latin America traces back to Spanish colonization. Following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the region in 1492, Spain claimed much of the Americas.

Though many European settlers and explorers who followed in Columbus’s footsteps proselytized their Catholic beliefs, it wasn’t until 1537 that Pope Paul III issued a charter affirming that the indigenous populations in Latin America were equal to Europeans, and thus allowed to become Christians.

In the 1800s, numerous countries, including Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia, signed contracts with the Catholic Church, or modeled their constitution on Catholic values, declaring themselves Catholic states.


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