Americas, Venezuela, Opinion

Santeria in Venezuela: Religion in Times of Dismay

Venezuela is mainly Catholic. There is a small percentage of people who practice other religions, and in the constitution, the link between the State and the Church was dissolved a long time ago. However, as it happens with many of other things written in Venezuela’s books of laws: people pay no attention to it. But there is another religion on the rise in Venezuela – Santeria.

But, let’s not turn into the legal path this time. There is something more personal, something more related to our everyday lives and religion. While going through one of the worst economic depressions in our history, we hold on to our saints, gods, and virgins for protection, assistance and care like never before. Many people have found in religion the only way to resist and emotionally survive. That is basically what we do now, we crouch and hold our breath while the situational river of hopelessness pounds its waves on our backs. From time to time we lift our heads for air, we pray for a while and return to the fight.

The Catholic Church in Venezuela

The Spanish conquest left us Catholicism as a legacy. From childhood, we learn at school that Christopher Columbus came and had to teach the “savages” how to worship a catholic god to be saved from hell. In 1572, an Indian Chief was baptized and history started to rule and be written with Christian names. Nowadays, approximately 25 million people are Catholic.

Religion during the Venezuelan Crisis

When asked how they link their spiritual beliefs to what is happening in the country and their daily lives, this is what they answered:

“More than a spiritual person I consider myself to be a religious person, a believer. I am a Catholic. I commend myself to God every day and He is present the whole day. However, I go to Church every weekend. I think faith helps me stay standing. Living in Venezuela in this moment is very frustrating and knowing there is a God that loves you is really good news” – Sarah

“I don’t practice Catholicism very much, I try to live my life according to what is said in the Bible, I think it is basically loving people like you love yourself and not doing to them what you don’t want them to do to you. When it comes to the situation of the country, I keep my faith and hope this will change and this group of thieves dressed like sheep will receive their punishment. Just like it happened to the author of this misery. Everybody (us included) has to be held accountable before God” – Felix

Others answered that being a spiritual and religious person was not the same and that they considered themselves more on the spiritual side than the religious one. They believed that a private and close relationship with God was helpful these days. Other people talked about energies and how these energies are gaining more and more space in Venezuela, dark energies dressed as thieves and politicians who are just here to destroy and make people starve.

Santeria Religion in Venezuela

Linked to this group of Venezuelans who detached themselves from traditional Catholic institutions, there is another group who belongs to other religions. According to official sources, 8% of Venezuelans practice Santeria, according to other sources this number will go up to 30% of the population. If these numbers are true, they represent a shift from Catholic beliefs that we have never seen before.

Yeremy practiced Santeria for a very long time. He answered the same questions:

“I am a very religious person as I practice Santeria, but I have believed in God all my life, regardless of religions, God is above all things. I trust in good deeds to bring good things and I really think that if you do things right everything will come out just fine and you will receive good. Personally, I considered faith to be present to accomplish my daily objectives; I pray my class to be the best. When I leave home I commend myself to God and once I get to my job, I thank God and my Saints for being there. I thank them for giving me what I love.

I teach salsa and I am also a school teacher and I am thankful for that. It is difficult to relate my religion to what is happening today. I am a person of faith and hope, the only way to connect this to my beliefs is by being a multiplier of good things, good words, actions, and education. So that the people you are with, in a classroom, can also become a multiplier of good things, can become good citizens and make Venezuela a better country again in all senses”.

Religion in Times of Dismay

This is a very small sample of how some Venezuelans link their religion to what they have to live through every day in the country. But it seems to me that, regardless of their religious preference, we all strive to keep our faith in some greater power, to use this God as a support for hard times and weak moments. 2018 doesn’t seem to be any better, we hope our Gods stay with us, we hope they don’t pack their suitcases and leave just like 2 million citizens have already done.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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