Catholicism is Costa Rica's official religion, but there are several other religious groups such as Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and other Protestants that have significant membership in Costa Rica.
Catholicism came to Costa Rica with the Spaniards in the 19th century. Catholicism was readily adopted by many of the social classes due to its promises of equality and eternal life. Just as the constitution of the United States, the constitution of Costa Rica also promises freedom of religion and the government usually respects this even though the majority of the government would consider themselves to be Catholic. Costa Rica as a country has always been remarkably secular, the relationship between the state and the church has been always very weak.
Religious Groups in Costa Rica
The vast majority of the population claims to be some denomination of the Christian sector. Of this vast majority, about 76% identify themselves as Roman Catholic. Although many people claim to be Catholic, a very large percentage are actually not practicing. Older people tend to be more dedicated to the church than younger generations, but it is undeniable that even without attending church a vast majority of the population considers itself catholic and have an inherited respect for the church.
The second largest group is Evangelical Protestants, making up about 13%. These people are usually the easiest to spot because they love to gush about their religion to anyone who will lend an ear. They also seem to enjoy religion more than anyone else in the country as they do a lot of singing to Jesus.
The rest of the population, claims to be from other dominations (Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran), other religions (such as Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and the Islam), or no religion at all. The most up and coming group that has nearly doubled their population are the Mormons from the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This group has been sending young boys from the States door to door recruiting for the cause and they are easy to spot since they come in pairs are dressed in black slacks, a white shirt, a black tie and are carrying a large book. Jehovah's Witnesses share a similar strategy but they are mainly found operating out of the Caribbean.
Churches and Other Places of Worship
In every town, no matter how small there is a church or a chapel usually facing east and on the west side is a central plaza. Each church and town usually has its own saint's day, which is celebrated among locals. There are several hundred gorgeous churches scattered all over Costa Rica. Perhaps some of the most famous locations include: Cartago, Coronado, Zarcero, Palmares, Atenas, San Ramon, and Grecia.
The other religions which are not Christian have less of a presence around the country for their places of worship. Sundays are the day when you will see the most people headed to their place of worship as the majority of Costa Ricans are Catholic and most other strong groups are secular Christian.
Many Costa Ricans are strong in faith and therefore want or need to carry out their Catholic duties such as baptisms, reconciliation, first holy communions, confirmation, marriage and funerals within the church.
Major Religious Celebrations in Costa Rica
Holy Week known as Semana Santa: This is the most important Catholic holiday in the country. Dates change annually but it is between March or April each year. Businesses will often close from Holy Thursday to Sunday. Most Catholic churches will made Religious processions in which they represent with dramatizations Jesus final days before being crucified. It’s important to mention that all alcohol sales are prohibited from Thursday to Sunday and many businesses extend the holiday to the entire week. Lent goes on for 40days before Easter Day where people will sacrifice something they enjoy and abstain from it.
Day of the Virgin or Dia de la Virgen: This is the second most important Catholic holiday in the country. On August the 2nd, every year, there is a national celebration this day as Our Lady of Los Angeles is the Mother Virgin of Costa Rica. People from other countries come to this church walking. Some time it takes several days to arrive from the place they live to the church. Close to this celebration, when you drive the Costa Rican roads, you will see the people walking, in many cases, several days before August the 2nd, in order to arrive on time to fulfill the promise they made to the virgin. 2009 was the first year this National Celebration was modified due to the Swine Flu. The Basilica of Cartago was shut down and people were asked not to make their pilgrimage this year.
Christmas of Navidad: Christmas in Costa Rica is a little strange, nothing like a Hollywood movie. Of course there is no snow and in fact they are entering into the summer months. Many Catholics do advent calendars leading up to Christmas and then they attend mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas day to celebrate the birth of Christ.