Religion plays a central role in the lives of the Portuguese. Their flag,
holidays, values and beliefs are interwoven with religion. Each town has its own holiday according
to its patron saint. For example, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, Festa do Espirito Santo, is
celebrated only in the Azores and by expatriate Azorian communities in countries such as Ecuador.
The majority of the population in Portugal is of the Christian faith. Most Christians are Roman Catholic, with a small number of Protestants, Anglicans and Baptists. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims living in Portugal and about 2000 Jews, mostly in Tras os Montes, Lisbon and Porto.
As early as the 19th century, republicans rebelled against the Church as they
believed that religion was a reflection of the past. Church property was vandalized, relations were
severed with the Vatican and religious holidays were abolished.
From 1932 to 1974 religion was seen differently under the new state because of the sighting of Our Lady of Fatima, the Virgin Mary. The religious shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is located in the northern part of Ribatejo. Here, in 1917, three shepherd children reported seeing Our Lady of Fatima, on the thirteenth day of each month from May to October. Catholic beliefs were reinforced as Our Lady of Fatima brought hope and spirituality into the lives of the Portuguese.
From that time, the government used religion to control the people. Prime
Minister Salazar gave the Catholic church special constitutional recognition because of its historical
and cultural ties to the country.
Today in the larger urban centres, the Catholic church has lost some of its influence due to social changes.