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Religion in Costa Rica

Roman Catholicism is the national state religion in Costa Rica and 75 percent of the population consider themselves Catholic (with varying degrees of devotion).

Catholicism plays a very large role in both the religion and daily activities of Costa Ricans. One major feature of Costa Rican Catholicism is the belief in saints who act as messengers for God. Most towns have a patron saint and hold festivals and major celebrations in their honor each year. Pilgrimages to holy places of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on the cross are also held yearly throughout the country.

Even though the vast majority (90 percent) of the people consider themselves Christians, most Costa Ricans have a tepid relationship with their faith. Costa Ricans’ casual relationship with religion means that only 40 percent of the populace actually observes Roman Catholic rituals.

In general, Costa Ricans are categorized as non-religious and secular since most of the population has inherited their respect for the Church through family traditions and not through strong personal beliefs.

The large majority of Costa Ricans attend church only on Sunday mornings or for baptisms, marriages and funerals. Patron saint celebrations are now more about socializing than worshipping, and important religious days are spent enjoying rodeos and dancing until late in the night.

There are several religious festivals in Costa Rica but, like most Latin American countries, the most important of these is the week before Easter, known as Semana Santa (or Holy Week), when the entire country shuts down. From Wednesday until Sunday during Holy Week, public transportation does not run, government offices are closed and most hotels are filled with Costa Ricans looking to escape to the coast for an unofficial week-long holiday. Huge processions go through the towns and the streets are filled with dancing and fireworks.


The Festival de la Luz (festival of lights) marks the beginning of the Christmas season and the second largest holiday in Costa Rica. During the first two weeks in December, lights are hung on Cyprus trees and dried coffee branches. Families get together on the evening of December 24th to eat a traditional dinner of pork legs and tamales and then on December 25th they attend La Misa de Gallo or Christmas Mass at midnight. The month of December is filled with topes where riders from all parts of Costa Rica come to San Jose to show off their horses and animals. There are huge carnivals, rodeos, concerts and general festivities surrounding the topes. On August 2, Costa Ricans celebrate the patron saint of the country, the Virgin of Los Angeles (La Negrita). Over a million people make the yearly pilgrimage to the Basilica in Cartago where La Negrita (the black virgin) appeared in 1635.


Catholicism dominates most of Costa Rica and even the public schools require religious education. Yet the 1949 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and there are small communities of Judaism, Islam and Buddhism starting to form. Protestant missionaries have also been very active with Costa Rican Indigenous groups, particularly the Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness and Seventh-Day Adventist denominations. The country’s general acceptance of all faiths has lead to an influx of oppressed and pacifist religious groups finding refuge in Costa Rica. The Jewish community settled there amid German persecution during World War II. As conscientious objectors during the Korean War, Quakers from America found peace in Monteverde, Costa Rica.


By Michelle Lillie
I am currently living on my fourth continent. I think that backpacks are one of the greatest inventions of all times. I adhere to the idea that if...
04 Nov 2010

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