Catholicism in Latin America: 5 key facts

Pope Benedict XVI began his second trip to Latin America on March 23, with stops in Mexico and Cuba. Here is a brief history of the Catholic church in the Americas.

2. First papal visit to Latin America

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    Pope Benedict XVI waves as he boards a plane on his way to a six-day visit to Mexico and Cuba, at Rome's Fiumicino international airport, Friday.
    Andrew Medichini/AP
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Despite the Catholic Church’s lengthy presence in Latin America, the first papal visit to the region didn’t take place until 1968, when Pope Paul VI visited Bogota, Colombia. A TIME Magazine article dated Aug. 30, 1968, noted that upon arrival, the pope “fell to his knees at the foot of the airplane ramp and kissed the concrete,” imitating Christopher Columbus’s first act when he arrived in the New World.

When Paul VI visited, the region was caught up in conflicts and dictatorships, ranging from a civil war in Guatemala to a military rule in Brazil. However, the main purpose of the pope’s visit was to prevent further splintering of the Latin American Catholic church, according to TIME.

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