By Fiona Hurrell, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Catholicism has long been the most popular religion in Brazil with an estimated 125 million followers (64 percent of the population) – The most of any country in the world. Yet what is not so widely known is that Brazil is also home to the largest Spiritist movement, which is growing rapidly, with almost 3.8 million devotees.
With the Catholic World Youth Day coming to Rio in July, many forms of religion will be brought to light in people’s hearts and minds. The Spiritist following seems to be growing in Brazil, perhaps due to its mix-and-match approach of other major faiths.
Spiritism began in 19th century France, thanks to educator Alan Kardec who helped to codify the practice. From there it spread to other countries, in particular Brazil, where a popular medium from Minas Gerais, Chico Xavier (1910-2002), became a sort of figurehead for the religion, appearing on television frequently.
Antonio Cesar Perri de Carvalho is the president of the Federação Espírita Brasileira (Spiritist foundation) in Brasília. He explains the religion as follows, “We think that it is important to practice the law of justice, love and charity in its greatest purity. To feel with self-control, to think with elevation, to speak constructively, to study always and to serve.”
Perhaps one of the most defining concepts is that Spiritists believe in reincarnation and the ongoing improvement of the soul until it reaches perfection. They also believe in God as ‘The Supreme Intelligence,’ the presence of spirits and the existence of other life forms in the universe.
Marco Gomez Esquita is a member of the Spiritist congregation of Ramatis in Tijuca. He explains his reasons for choosing to follow the Spiritist doctrine. “This religion explains things to me better than other religions. Catholicism for instance, leaves me with many questions unanswered. I believe very much in reincarnation and that it is our duty to lead a good and honest life. The reincarnation will reflect how we were in our previous life.”
In a census conducted in 2010 by the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) it was discovered that the majority of followers are middle to upper class and highly educated – over 98 percent were literate.
Esquita believes this is because Spiritism requires a lot of self-discovery and research carried out by the individual. He explains, “Spiritists are encouraged to improve themselves every day and are expected to read widely and research the religion and its teachings to better understand the practices. For this reason, you need to be literate and have a thirst for knowledge.”
He goes on to add, “Many followers only find Spiritism as adults, because a child would find it hard to truly understand the teachings.”
The census also shows that Spiritism appears to be predominant in urban areas. Out of all the states in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is considered to contain the largest number of Spiritists followed by São Paulo and Minas Gerais.
According to President Perri de Carvalho, this is because urban areas are better equipped to teach Spiritism, stating, “The Spiritism dissemination is based on books. Commonly the Spiritist Centers have lectures, seminars and courses and it is important to read books like Alan Kardec’s and other books. Also, in the rural areas, colloquial religions are still dominant.”
To find out more about the history and practices of Spiritism and its presence in Brazil visit the Federação Espírita Brasileira website.