Guatemala priest Father Rául Monterroso celebrates Holy Mass

History and Impact of Catholicism in Guatemala

Cross Catholic Outreach values our ministry partners in Guatemala for their commitment to nourishing souls. We work with a strong team of priests, religious sisters and Catholic lay leaders who work tirelessly to support the material and spiritual needs of the poor. To understand this integral approach, it helps to reflect on the history of Catholicism in this beautiful country and how the Catholic Church is making a difference.

Religion in Guatemala

Guatemala’s religious landscape has undergone dramatic shifts in the past few decades. In 2000, 60% of the population was Catholic and 40% were Protestant. Small pockets practiced other religions, and few Guatemalans considered themselves atheists.

Today, 45% of Guatemala’s 16.9 million people identify as Catholic, a decline of 15% in just over two decades. Meanwhile, Protestantism has grown from 40% to 42%, making Guatemala the most Protestant country in Latin America. Another 2% practice other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Mayan or Afro-indigenous religions.1 The largest increase is no religious affiliation, which is now composed of 11% of the population.

Related: Manifesting Christ’s Presence in Guatemala

Cathedral of the Infant Jesus in Cuilapa, Guatemala
Mass at Catedral del Niño Dios de Cuilapa, or the Cathedral of the Infant Jesus of Cuilapa, in Guatemala’s Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Cross Catholic Outreach partners with the diocese to bring spiritual and material poverty relief to local families.

The History of Catholicism in Guatemala

Prior to the colonization of Guatemala by Spain, the Guatemalan people practiced traditional Mayan religion. Ancient practices included worshiping nature gods, such as the gods of sun and rain, and practicing astronomy, astrology and ritualistic human sacrifice.

When Spain colonized Guatemala in the 1500s, they brought Roman Catholicism with them. Eventually, Catholicism was named the country’s official religion, and while most Guatemalans converted, they combined Christianity with many of their traditional Mayan cultural practices.2, 3

In 1821, the Guatemalan people won their independence from Spain.4 It wasn’t until Guatemala became a democratically controlled government that freedom of religion was written into its constitution. Even though Catholicism is no longer Guatemala’s official religion, the Catholic Church is the only one officially recognized by the government as a legal entity. Other religions must file an application with the government to receive recognition and tax-exempt status.

In October 2019, Pope Francis elevated Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, Bishop of Huehuetenango, to the rank of Cardinal.5 Cross Catholic Outreach provides food and medical supplies to the poor in Cardinal Ramazzini’s Diocese of Huehuetenango and recently launched new efforts supporting food and faith in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu, which falls in the same ecclesiastical province. Cardinal Ramazzini was named the Titular Cardinal of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Rome (San Giovanni Evangelista a Spinaceto) and was appointed by the Holy Father to serve on the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. He has also served on the Pontifical Commission for Latin America since 1990.

Related: Cardinal Ramazzini Visits Cross Catholic Outreach

Father Raul Monterosso, head of Caritas in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, and his staff members.
Father Raúl Monterroso, head of Caritas in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, and his staff members.

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How Cross Catholic Outreach Is Making an Impact in Guatemala

Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima

One of Cross Catholic Outreach’s trusted partners in Guatemala is Father Raúl Monterroso, director of the Caritas ministry in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Drawing its name from the Latin word meaning “charity,” Caritas compassionately serves poor families with the love of Christ.

“For me, faith and hope represent believing in something much more beautiful, in a God who will never abandon us, a God who is always by our side and who changes our hearts,” said Fr. Raúl.

With faith at the foundation of its poverty relief efforts, Caritas transforms lives through a wide range of outreaches. Projects have included feeding programs, education, home constructioncommunity water systemsagricultural support and even disaster response training.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima’s spiritual outreach, the People’s Holy Mission, complements the work of Caritas. It focuses on the formation of spiritual leaders (Catholic laypeople) for evangelization, renewal of the Catholic faith and inspiration to live out the faith.

The diocese had a shortage of priests, and some villagers would go four to six weeks without seeing a priest for Mass or receiving the sacraments. The People’s Holy Mission equips Catholic laypeople with the tools for spiritual growth. The ministry also trains catechists to minister to their communities.

Through this spiritual approach, parishioners create small missionary communities that meet weekly in a lay leader’s house. At these meetings, members enjoy fellowship, Bible study, prayer and worship, and strategize outreaches within the community.

The People’s Holy Mission hosts massive retreats and training events to spiritually develop lay leaders and catechists. Fr. Raúl and his team believe God’s Word gives us “everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), and they’re committed to furthering the Gospel in both word and deed.

Related: Addressing Poverty in Guatemala

Bishop Pablo Vizcaino Prado, center, reviews construction plans for a warehouse and social pastoral center, the future hub of outreaches to the poor in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu.

Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu

Cross Catholic Outreach recently launched a new partnership with Bishop Pablo Vizcaino Prado of Guatemala’s Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu. We first learned about the troubling poverty within this diocese through Fr. Raúl, a longtime friend of Bishop Vizcaino Prado.

Over the past two years, Cross Catholic Outreach has thoroughly tested the diocese’s capacity to carry out the bishop’s community transformation vision. The current early-stage projects will lay the foundation for long-term integral human development initiatives, beginning with building a warehouse and social pastoral center that will be used for current and future outreaches — including immediate hunger relief projects.

Families will also receive agricultural training and seeds to grow home gardens to fight malnutrition. The training sessions will be infused with Catholic spiritual topics, including Bible reflections and discussions on the principle of solidarity, to encourage families to recognize their neighbors as their brothers and sisters and actively work together for their collective good.

During the Christmas season, Caritas staff helps Cross Catholic Outreach distribute Boxes of Joy to poor children in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Each gift box is filled with toys, school supplies, toiletries and a Story of Jesus coloring book.
During the Christmas season, Caritas staff helps Cross Catholic Outreach distribute Boxes of Joy to poor children in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Each gift box is filled with toys, school supplies, toiletries and a Story of Jesus coloring book.

Sharing the Catholic Faith in Guatemala

Like all Cross Catholic Outreach’s ministry partners, the Dioceses of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu and Santa Rosa de Lima evangelize the communities they serve by sharing the Gospel. Fr. Raúl’s ministry recently shared with us the story of 17-year-old Fredy Garcia, whose life was changed through Catholic spiritual outreach. Like most children in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Fredy grew up with little access to education or other resources. His parents took him to their local parish occasionally, but not regularly.

Even though his parents weren’t very interested in the Catholic faith, Fredy was. He wanted to be involved in his parish and loved learning about the Catholic faith. By God’s grace, he was in a diocese that wanted to see him thrive spiritually. After Fredy was confirmed, he immediately began serving his parish in any way he could.

“Thank God I achieved my dream of being an altar server,” he said. “This first consecration began my life of love of Jesus.”

What’s most impressive about Fredy is that he wants to share his hope with others — especially his parents. “My biggest dream was to get my parents to attend church. Thank God I did it.”

Fredy’s story is just one example of how God uses our partners to minister to the hearts and souls of Guatemalan families.

Providing a Firm Foundation

Cross Catholic Outreach believes the Gospel is essential to poverty relief in Guatemala, and that’s why we’re committed to supporting partners like the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu and the People’s Holy Mission in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Catholic spiritual formation provides a firm foundation on which families can build the rest of their lives.

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Sources

1. Guatemala – United States Department of State. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2021, from https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/guatemala/.

2. Gomez, M. C. (2020, May 8). Maya Religion. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.ancient.eu/Maya_Religion.

3. Woodward, R. L. (2008). A Short History of Guatemala. La Antigua: Editorial Laura Lee.

4. Horst, O. H., & Stansifer, C. L. (2020, March 24). The Post-Colonial Period. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Guatemala/The-postcolonial-period.

5. Ramazzini Imeri Card. Álvaro Leonel. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2020, from https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali_biografie/cardinali_bio_ramazziniimeri_al.html.

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures for this project incurred through June 30, 2021, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.