Roman Catholicism remains Argentina’s official and dominant religion, though church membership is no longer a requirement for the presidency. Evangelical Protestantism, with its street preachers and storefront churches, is growing even in sophisticated Buenos Aires, mostly but not exclusively among working-class people. Other religions have fewer adherents.
Catholicism in particular has left the country with many of its greatest landmarks, ranging from the colonial chapels, churches, and cathedrals of Córdoba and the northwest, to the neoclassical dignity of Buenos Aires’s Catedral Metropolitana. Immigrant Protestant communities are responsible for Buenos Aires landmarks like San Telmo’s Danish and Swedish churches, and the impressive Russian Orthodox dome opposite Parque Lezama.
Starting with the famous Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas in Mexico, factions within the Catholic Church have wrestled with the contradictions between its official mission of recruiting and saving souls and its duty to alleviate the misery of those who have experienced secular injustice and persecution. Argentina is no exception—figures such as the late cardinal Antonio Quarracino were outright apologists for the vicious military dictatorship of 1976–1983, but others lobbied against its excesses and in favor of a return to democracy. Some more-militant clergy worked the slums under the influence of “liberation theology,” and some lost their lives in the aftermath of the 1976 coup.
Folk Catholicism, including spiritualist practices, often diverges from Church orthodoxy in the veneration of unofficial saints such as San Juan Province’s Difunta Correa and Corrientes Province’s Gaucho Antonio Gil, and even historical figures like Juan and Evita Perón, tango legend Carlos Gardel, and healer Madre María, all of whose tombs are in Buenos Aires’s landmark cemeteries Recoleta and Chacarita. Novelist Tomás Eloy Martínez has sardonically labeled his countrymen as “cadaver cultists” for their devotion to the dead.
Anglicans were the original bearers of Protestantism in Argentina, but Scandinavian communities were numerous enough to justify construction of Lutheran churches. More-recent Protestant denominations are often shrill evangelicals; nearby Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo is one of the centers of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s cultish Unification Church (no relation to Moon Handbooks!).
The Argentine constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and adherents of non-Christian faiths are not rare, if not exactly numerous. The largest and most conspicuous of these is Judaism, as the capital’s Jewish community is at least 200,000 strong (a planned community census may well reveal a larger number). Saudi Arabia sponsored the construction of Palermo’s Centro Islámico Rey Fahd, whose vastness overshadows the capital’s relatively small community of observant Muslims.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition