Religion in Costa Rica
Last Updated: Jun 19, 2015
Roman Catholicism is the state religion of Costa Rica, and Christian values are present in many aspects of daily life. Town names often begin with San or Santa; familiar expressions include "If God wishes it" and "God bless," and every city has a Catholic church.
Although the Costa Rican Constitution establishes Catholicism as the state religion, it also assures religious freedom for all. According to recent data, 76.3% of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic. An additional 13.7% are Evangelical Christians, 1.3% are Jehovah's Witness, and 0.7% are Protestant Christian. The remaining 8% either have no religion (3.2%) or are of other faiths (4.8%), including Mormonism, Judaism and Islam.
While Catholicism is no doubt the prevalent religion, the country is considered one of the most secular in Latin America. Only 45% of Catholics describe themselves as practicing, and the rest are essentially Catholic by default – their parents are Catholic, and they themselves were baptized Catholic. Non-practicing Catholics attend Mass only for the high holidays (Christmas and Easter), and for Sacraments like baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage.
Evangelical Christians make up the second largest religious group in Costa Rica. Established Protestant denominations, like Methodist or Presbyterian, are uncommon Costa Rica. Here, Evangelical Christianity is a type of Protestantism that blends philosophies from different denominations to form mostly standalone churches – one evangelical church may have very little in common with another. Known in Spanish as evangelicos, members of Evangelical churches are typically very vocal about their faith and may try to convert others. Mormons are also very vocal so, while their numbers are few, most towns and neighborhoods receive monthly visits from young Mormons dressed in formal clothing, offering to share The Word door-to-door.
Every town in Costa Rica is home to at least one Catholic church, and Sunday Mass is an event for many, especially the older generation. Some of the country's Catholic churches and cathedrals are absolutely stunning, and well worth a visit. These include the holy basilica in Cartago, the metallic church in Grecia, and the mosaic tile church in Canas; other churches of note are located in Santa Maria de Dota, San Rafael de Heredia, San Ramon, Zarcero, and Coronado.
For many Costa Ricans, religion's strongest influence is the year's holiday calendar – approximately 33% of official holidays are religious, and many other celebrations, including each town's patron saint day, revolve around faith. Some important religious holidays include:
Known in Spanish as Semana Santa, Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter, and includes Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Celebrations are very elaborate, and include detailed reenactments of the Crucifixion. This is also a popular week for beach getaways.
Our Virgin of Los Angeles Day
Every year on August 2, Costa Ricans from around the country make their way to the Cartago Basilica. Many make the pilgrimage, known as a romeria, on foot – a feat that can take several days, depending on the starting point. Once in Cartago, the faithful walk, or even crawl on their knees, to the alter to ask the Virgin Mary for guidance or a miracle. Last year, more than one million Costa Ricans – approximately 25% of the population – made the pilgrimage to Cartago.
The entire month of December is full of Christmas excitement, as Costa Ricans prepare for one of the most important holidays of the year. Locals celebrate with fireworks, family meals and gifts, and religious families attend Christmas Mass.