At the beginning of the 20th century Latin America was 90 per cent Catholic, a result of 300 years of colonization and conversion by the Spanish and Portuguese. But in 2014 that figure had dropped to 69 per cent, the result of large numbers of people leaving the Catholic Church and many moving to Protestant denominations, including the Pentecostal churches. From the middle of the 20th century missionaries began to target more marginal populations and Pentecostalism began to gain traction internationally. Catholicism’s close association with the political Right times has made it controversial, whereas Protestants have generally attempted to remain apolitical. The remarkable wave of Protestant conversions in Latin America reflects the emotional, social and material appeal of diverse, flexible Protestant churches, some of them bringing genuine spiritual empowerment and liberation to the people, some of them unscrupulously opportunistic. Their worship is theatrical, populist, vernacular and has an immediate and practical appeal.
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