I leave my house in the morning and my host sister tells me to “Go with God.” On my way to one school, I pass three different little parks (within a block of one another) with little shrines to Mary in them. When I arrive at that school, a public institution, I ask the doorman how he is and he says, “I’m doing well, thanks be to God.” In the courtyard I see another Mary statue. I enter a classroom, and see it begin with the teacher asking all of the students to bow their heads and close their eyes for prayer, closing with the Our Father (Catholic version). I walk back out of the class, taking a detour to the bathroom, and pass a poster on the wall with a prayer on it.
This world is filled with overt religiosity, almost all of it still Catholic. See above reference to the Virgin statues and Our Father. Truly the numbers are staggering – Pew Forum shows that 79% of Colombians are Catholic. In fact, only 8% are non-Christian. I was actually surprised early upon arriving here that I saw a Kingdom Hall, lived next to fervent Evangelicals, and saw Mormon missionaries. What this Pew Forum article is really about, actually, is the decline of Catholocism in Latin America. Truth is, Spanish colonial missionaries did an amazing job converting most of the population to Catholocism, but since then it has been the Protestant missionaries who are doing the work in Latin America.
But I digress. My point is that I come from a country where religion is explicitly separated from the state in the consitution. I think in general, religion is still a very sensitive topic in the US. Current politics are kind of messing with that by creating ugly stereotypes, but still – generally speaking, religion is not discussed outside of close friendships or spaces specifically designed for practicing religion. I know I certainly avoid discussing religion with 99% of people I know. For those in the States that don’t want any part of religion, they can generally avoid it. That is not the case here, where Catholocism was the official religion of the state until 1991. And to this day, even though there is no official religion, masses are held in shopping malls, classes in public schools still start with prayers, public officials still evoke God’s name when making speeches at free local zumba classes, governmental meetings still begin with quick prayers, and religious festival days are still national holidays.