Religion is important to Guatemalan life. Each village has a Catholic church; at home, people light candles to honour saints. While the majority of Guatemalans identify themselves as Roman Catholic, the form of Catholicism found in Guatemala, particularly in Mayan areas, differs from that of many other countries.
The Catholic Church plays an important role in the lives of Guatemalans. Catholicism was established by Dominican friars, who talked about their faith in terms that would be comprehensible to Mayan people. Typically, the friars did not stay permanently in a single village; once they established Catholic practices they moved on, and the new converts assumed responsibility for maintaining church rituals.
In many Guatemalan villages, Mayan and Catholic beliefs combined to produce uniquely Guatemalan forms of worship that include rituals surrounding the figure of Maximon (a sort of anti-saint), village brotherhoods in which men take turns devoting a year of their life to organizing the worship of the village's patron saint, and the invoking of favours from saints and ancestors with incense and alcohol. However, the heart of Guatemalan religion and culture lies in the public celebration of holy days, and personal events such as birthdays, marriages, births and deaths.
Some people turn to traditional prayer men called brujos, ajkunes and chuchkujawes. These men are believed to have special powers for planting and removing curses, fortelling the future, and asking God to heal the sick and bring back love or lost objects. Brujos hold their rituals in houses or caves, using offerings of incense and liquor.
In recent years, the traditional forms of Guatemalan religion have been affected by two new factors. A number of younger priests have introduced Catholic Action, an orthodox form of Catholicism with a social-activist bent. Fundamentalist Protestantism is also a growing presence in Guatemala, with evangelico sects gaining many converts in rural areas.