Myriad of unique religious sites in Bolivia

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When the Spanish colonized Bolivia in the mid-1500s, the indigenous tribes incorporated the Catholic faith into their culture. The country is home to many unique religious sites that have become popular travel destinations.

Cristo de la Concordia

Since the iconic statue of Cristo Redentor — Christ with outstretched arms — was unveiled in 1931 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, other countries have erected their own. 

In the capital city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Cristo de la Concordia rests on a mountain peak and, according to Lonely Planet, it stands a little more than 17 inches taller than Cristo Redentor.

CONNOR BERGERON  |  CATHOLIC HERALD Bolivia opened their statue to the public in 1994, allowing visitors to climb inside to view the city in the Andes. Cristo de la Concordia was the largest statue of Jesus in the world until 2010, when Poland finished its Christ the King statue. 

Jesuit missions of Chiquitos

If you remember the 1986 film, “The Mission,” with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, then you have an idea what the Jesuit missions of Chiquitos look like. 

In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries went to parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. Through music and other evangelization efforts, the Jesuits helped nomadic tribes create permanent settlements. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from South America, and most of the mission sites were abandoned. Six missions in Bolivia withstood the absence of the Jesuits: San Xavier, San Rafael del Velasco, San José de Chiquitos, Concepción, San Miguel de Velasco and Santa Ana de Velasco. 

In 1972, a former Jesuit renovated the mission sites, restoring the original colors and unique wood carvings. Today they showcase a fusion of European and indigenous cultures. 

Tarabuco

In the lowlands of the Andes sits the tourist town of Tarabuco. On Sundays, tourists haggle for traditional clothes, blankets and other items in the open air markets of the remote pueblo. The majority of the town is of indigenous background and speaks one of Bolivia’s 36 native languages. Mass is celebrated in the Quecha language, and parishioners decorate crosses with ribbons, flowers and balloons to be blessed the Sunday before Lent. 

Walking through older cities in Bolivia you’ll stumble upon colonial Spanish-style churches, or passing through Amazonian areas you’ll see folk celebrations for feast days. No matter where you go in Bolivia you’ll find Catholicism interwoven.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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