Sunday, April 25, 2010

Musings on Religion in Peru

Last week, I broke my promise to blog at least once a week. I'll try to do better.

Things have been crazy! I don't really even know why; we are just starting to wrap up language school, so we have finals. My class has to take four: a written one, a listening one, an oral one, and our written-out speech counts as a written one. We also just took a test on Friday.

We also went on another field trip this past Friday, to two different churches and a couple of mercadillos (markets that don't sell fresh produce.)

Peru is an interesting place when it comes to religion. According to the Joshua Project, 77% of the population is Roman Catholic, with 7.3% Protestant. In total, 90% of the population is "Christian." A small portion of the Protestants are Evangelical, but the percentage of Evangelical Christians in Peru is significantly lower in the southern part than the north. To put it in perspective, there are 50,000 Nazarene members in the north, and in all of south Peru, there are 300 Nazarene members.

Let me describe the Catholic churches for you, since you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the churches in the mornings. We went to one near the center, and also visited the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, and they are just decked out. They utilize the white volcanic stone, and tons of gold and fanciness.

It really makes me wonder what they think of our churches; one of the four Nazarene churches here is the size of my bedroom and has dirt floors. My church has hand-made decorations. If I were visiting and was accustomed to Catholic churches, I would be super taken aback by our churches.

But as Brandi and I have discussed, this gives us an opportunity to talk about the fact that because of Jesus Christ, the buildings we worship in don't matter. We, the believers, are the temple. In fact, the early church didn't have a specific temple or building where they worshipped. Because Jesus came and offered his life as a sacrifice for our sins, they no longer needed a place to go and offer sacrifices. It actually gives us a great "in" to begin talking about what we believe.

The other really interesting thing about the church buildings here are the statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints that have glass cases in the churches, but are taken out and used in processions. There are many of them spread throughout each church, and on Friday, we witnessed devout Catholics going around praying to the Virgen or the saints. This definitely made me understand the practice in certain religions, including Islam, of not using any graphics or depictions of their deities or religious figures (this is called iconoclasm). There is a fine line between veneration and idolatry, and that is something we definitely have to be careful of.

We have had many talks in class about religion with our teacher, a practicing Catholic. She has asked us a lot about what we believe, she has shared where she is coming from, and we've even talked about Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses (they are common here). She knows we have the same beliefs about Christ, but she holds strong to her beliefs about Mary. We have asked where in the Bible it says to pray to Mary, and her response was, "Where does it say not to pray to Mary?"

It is clear, though, that Catholicism here in Peru is very diluted with beliefs handed down from the Incas. Some of the beliefs are a little crazy, like the Black Guinea Pig. If someone is sick, they have a ritual with a black guinea pig where the chamán rubs the cuy over the body of the sick person until it dies. When it was dead, they cut into it to see it's organs, and whichever one appears inflamed or whatever is the one causing the illness of the person. If the cuy has a bad liver, then the person's liver is causing them pain or sickness. There are many other examples of strange rituals still practiced here, and it would probably be defined as syncretism: combining of different religions or beliefs. They do these strange rituals, but pray to God during them.

I'm not sure if it would be easier to try to witness to someone who's beliefs are very different from Christianity than someone who believes they are Christian. But this is what we are up against. And we have been told that we don't belong here--the people are either Incan or Catholic, and even if they convert, once we leave they will go right back.

But we aren't really about religion, after all. We want to share with people the truth, and Truth is a person, named Jesus Christ.

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