The Christianization of the New World, which began in the Dominican Republic, planted the seed of Catholicism whose fruits remain intact. The predominance of Catholicism sits against a backdrop of a strong Catholic hierarchy that is present in all the social, economic and political aspects of the culture, as seen in the Concordat signed by the Holy See and the Dominican Republic in 1954.
Nevertheless, during the Twentieth century, the Dominican Republic began to experience the development of a diversity of religious expressions – within the Protestant faith – which joined the different manifestations of the so-called popular religiosity, a phenomenon which has been present since the arrival of African slaves to the island.
The spirituality of the blacks made itself clear in the country, even though they were forced to be creative so as to disguise their gods in the midst of the Catholic impositions. The slaves from various areas of the African continent had different languages, religions and cultures; however, they were all, in general, polytheists. Their preservation of their spirituality was a reaction to the necessity to preserve their identity in light of the utopia of one day recovering their freedom.
The manifestation of the popular religiosity, which is still deeply-rooted today in fragments of the population, originates in the Africans who occupied the western part of the island, colonized by France. Voodoo was the religion of the people, which developed in Haiti and which later appeared in the Dominican Republic, but with a local variant: it has elements of European Kardecist Spiritism and Cuban Spiritism.
As part of the religious history of the country, we also find an indigenous contribution. The Tainos Indians, who inhabited the island when the Dominican Republic was discovered by Europe, possessed highly structured religious beliefs that provided explanations for the origin of the world – the natural and the supernatural – and human existence. The Tainos called their gods cemies, with whom they communicated through rituals and ceremonies that were led by a priest or behique, who was a combination doctor and spiritual leader.
On the other hand, the relevance of the Catholic rites in the Dominican Republic is most evident in the national celebrations, all of which are related to this branch of Christianity. Holy Week, Christmas, the celebrations to the patron saints in each town, the worship of the Virgin of Altagracia, with the annual elaborate processions, are part of the range of Catholic celebrations.
Higüey, the main city of the province of Altagracia, is the first city of Mary worship of America under the advocation of the Virgin of Altagracia, the spiritual mother of the Dominican people.
According to data in the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey (ENDESA, for its acronym in Spanish) almost half (48 percent) of women interviewed declared that they identify with the Catholic religion, while only 41 percent of men ages 15 to 49 identified with the same religion.
In terms of other denominations, 20 percent of women said they belonged to the Evangelical religion and two percent to the seventh-day Adventist. 28 percent of female interviewees declared that they belonged to no religion. Meanwhile, 20 percent of men identified as Evangelical while 37 percent do not identify with any religion.
Demographic and Health Survey, Dominican Republic 2013: http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/dominicanrepublic/drive/DRDHS2013-Final02-10-2013.pdf
Pope Pius XII, through Monsignor Doménico Tardini, agreed with the then president of the Dominican Republic, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, to sign the Concordat.
This agreement between the Holy See and the Dominican State, signed 1954, remains in forcé and establishes the following:
They will enjoy the same faculties of the Ordinary and other ecclesiastical Authorities in reference to its clerics and faithful.
Note: Reproduction of the first three articles of the Resolution No. 3874, of the National Congress, that approved the Concordato and the Protocolo Final signed between the Dominican Republic and the Holy See.
Source: Official gazette. Year LXXV. Ciudad Trujillo, July 21, 1954. No. 7720
As a result of signing the Concordato in the Dominican Republic, the Catholic church has obtained the civil legal status of its institutions, has been exempt from paying taxes, has been supported by the Dominican State in the construction of new temples and enjoys the respect and acceptance of the country’s holidays.