Catholicism was introduced to Ecuador by the Spanish in the 16th century. About 95% of Ecuadorians are Roman Catholic. The church has traditionally played a role in education and taken care of the sick and needy, using money from donations and endowments. More recently the church has taken an active role in social change for the poor, which has brought it into conflict with the government. In 1976 the police arrested 17 Latin American bishops for promoting social change and interfering with Ecuador's internal politics. They were later expelled from the country.

In late November every year, thousands of people walk down the Quito valley to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Quinche. They carry torches or pocket lamps and tell stories of miracle healings. Throughout Ecuador there are many other shrines where people come to pray for a sick person or to give thanks for health and prosperity.

In some ways, Catholic and indigenous beliefs have blended. For example, in the church in the village of Turi, there is a statue called Jesus de Belén. This statue is venerated both by the indigenous peoples and by the Catholics. The indigenous people leave small bags filled with hair at the foot of the statue, while the Catholics light candles. Another blending of Catholic and indigenous beliefs is the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a tradition that dates back to pre-Inca times and has become associated with the Catholic celebration of All Souls' Day. On this day, people make dolls out of dough and take them to the cemetery to place on the graves of those who have died.
Did you know?

One of the largest cathedrals in South America is located in Ecuador. The Catedral de la Inmaculada (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) is in Cuenca and was built between 1885 and 1967. It holds up to 10,000 people and its altar is a free-standing golden arch with a statue of Christ.

A few miles north of Quito is the famous Cochasquí Archaeological Complex. There are 15 pyramids covered with earth and large dome-shaped burial tombs. The Caranqui peoples built the complex in the 13th century, before the coming of the Incas. The indigenous people in the nearby community believe that the stories of their origins are buried in this location.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom for all. Most Sierra Indians follow a form of Catholicism. Animistic religions have survived among the indigenous peoples of the Oriente. Mormons and Pentecostalists have carried out missionary work in Ecuador and now many thousands of Ecuadorians belong to these churches.