Evangelicals' Big Gains Started in the 1960s

It's been decades since Roman Catholicism has been considered the ''one true faith'' depicted by the priests who accompanied the first Portuguese explorers.

In Brazil, Protestants did not gain a foothold until the early 19th century with the arrival of German immigrants. They were followed by American missionaries, who represented mostly Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches. These missionaries won few converts.

Rapid conversion didn't occur until the 1960s , when the Pentecostal churches began converting the nation's poor. Some, like the Assemblies of God, have become large organizations - 12 million followers in Brazil - and have churches in other nations. Most, however, are home-grown and remain small.

''What sparked their success in gaining converts was Brazil's industrial revolution, which increased the size of the working class and fostered a sense of alienation and bewilderment among the urban poor,'' writes Joseph Page in his new book ''The Brazilians.'' ''In search of community and certainty, many of them turned to Pentecostalism.''

Today, on any given Sunday, there are more Protestants in Brazilian churches than Catholics.

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