Guatemala: Religion and Education

Disclaimer: this posting contains sensitive subject, such as religion. Please do not proceed if this is a touchy subject in your point of view.

Someone recently asked me about religion and education situation in Guatemala.

I shall discuss the latter first. What I heard from locals is that although the government provides free schools up to Primary 6, some parents (especially the campesinos/villagers) still do not send their children to school. The economic opportunity cost is too great when the kids could have worked and earned money immediately. It is common for a man supporting a family of 3-4 children to earn 50 Quetzal a day, which is equivalent to approximately USD6.25. On the other hand, I have seen a few efforts made in educating Guatemalan children. Today, I saw a mobile public library in front of La Iglesia San Merced, possibly the most beautiful church in Guatemala.

Mobile “Project Library” in Guatemala To Promote Education
San Merced Church - The Most Beautiful Church in Guatemala
San Merced Church – The Most Beautiful Church in Guatemala

The taxi driver from Antigua that drove me back from my jade workshop have four adult children and they are all professionals (administrators and engineers). And I met a German girl who is on a volunteer program with a local school, and it turns out that the school is fully equipped and she is not needed (this possibly highlights another social issue of proper resource allocations in the country and a possible sign of a systemic issue). I do not have the knowledge on these topics to discuss them further or have more profound opinion on the education system in general.

Religion is an interesting theme in Guatemala. Being a spanish colony, Catholicism is definitely widely followed. Different cities have their patron saints. They celebrate Semana Santa y el dia de los muertos. What is interesting is this: the Mayans incorporate their Mayan ceremonies into their practice of Catholicism. This practice is known as Sincretismo.

This mayan lady is practicing her mayan ritual in front of El Calvario chapel in Chichicastenango. (I shouldn’t have taken her photo but I cannot resist). I also saw another lady bringing her smoky tin inside the chapel.

A Lady Performing Her Mayan Ceremony on An Altar Outside A Chapel, El Calvario
A Lady Performing Her Mayan Ceremony on An Altar Outside A Chapel, El Calvario

PS. The wooden pole in the forefront of the chapel photo is the pole used in the Palo Volando fiesta. This is also done in Mexico where men climb up the pole, tie themselves, and swing down from the top to the ground.

The Pole Used For Palo Voltando Event
The Pole Used For Palo Voltando Event

San Simon/Maximon is another deity that came about after the arrival of the Conquistador. I also heard that some Cathedral was built with steps resembling Mayan pyramids to attract the Mayans to adopt Catholicism.

Another interesting observation I have seen is that in the Lake Atitlan area, there are more Evangelists/Protestants than Catholics. I was told that in Santiago de Atitlan, there are 32 evangelist churches to one cathedral. I am not going to comment on this situation further. A local did share with me how it all came about. The American evangelists/protestants do organize many mission trips to help the impoverished community here in Guatemala.

That being said, the Catholic church also is also helping the impoverished population. The church next to my hotel is San Pedro church and as part of the church, there is a hospital where people can come to seek medical attention and pay as they are willing or can afford. This hospital is inspired by the work of Hermano Pedro (died in 1667 and finally canonized by Vatican in 2002).

San Pedro Church - One Example of the Colonial Churches in Antigua
San Pedro Church – One Example of the Colonial Churches in Antigua

That is pretty much the treatments that can be given on these two heavy subjects. I have to admit I was not too focused on learning about the role of religion here in Guatemala, although I know it is a very important part of the culture and community. So I apologize for not having profound insights on this.

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