After a few months in Brazil, I have come to understand the large role that religion still plays in society. Brazil’s population predominantly identifies as Christian, specifically Catholic, but there are individuals that follow the traditions of their ancestors. Many of these individuals practice Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition that started in the northern regions of Brazil. These different traditions have permeated into the current politics and everyday lives of individuals. Overall, there is a growing acceptance of those who do not share the same faith tradition, but owing to the country’s size, these views tend to change depending on the specific region.
During the second week of October, I went to Mass for the first time in Brazil. Initially, I was concerned about the possible language barrier and considered not going; however, I felt a longing for church. Going with my host family made the process less complicated, and although it was in Portuguese, I followed along.
Through this spiritual journey, I focused on the paintings and shrines built within the church, noticing their portrayal of the saints and the syncretism involved. Many of the portraits displayed saints with tan and brown complexions, which differ from traditional churches in the United States. This portrayal has a historical context: through painting individuals with similar complexions, much like the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, syncretism served as a method of initial conversion.
The first time I went to Mass at Georgetown, I remember leaving the service feeling distant from the church. Growing up, Sunday Mass allowed me to clear my thoughts and reflect with my community. The Mass in my hometown had always been in Spanish; therefore, I had to relearn the rituals and hymns in English. I remember going through a period of confusion on campus, and my initial worry of attending Mass in Portuguese was feeling this way once again in a foreign country. Surprisingly, after Mass finished, I felt even more at home, and the service put me at ease.
Attending Mass in a foreign country was a stepping stone in understanding the Brazilian culture, at least from a religious aspect. It was not simply hearing the sermon of the priest. It was an act of coming together with the community, especially in a time of political and economic uncertainty.
Spirituality does not only come through the church. The more I talk with Brazilians, the more I see that many identify as culturally Christian, but do not confine their faith to the church. Discerning and questioning the actions and functions of the church are important aspects of understanding its influence in a nation and its people.
As I finish my study abroad experience this year, I will take back the conversations and experiences I have had with my host family and other Brazilians. These includes experiences not relating only to the church, but also to the process of faith formation. As I come back to Georgetown, I am ready to rejoin the community of Hoyas that have allowed me to question my faith and grow from it.