Although about two-thirds of Uruguayans are Roman Catholics, Uruguay is a secular state. The government has eliminated connections between the church and state. Religious teaching is not permitted in public schools. Even the names of holidays have been given secular names. Holy Week, for example, is now called Tourism Week and Christmas is called Family Day. Some Uruguayans attend church regularly and maintain Christian traditions, but others do not practise any religion.
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There is a small community of Jews in Montevideo. Most are Ashkenazic immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe.
Uruguay was the home of Juan Luis Segundo, one of the leading writers on liberation theology. This Roman Catholic movement originated in the 1960s in South America. It challenged Catholics to rethink the role of the church in society and to work for social justice. Segundo and other writers encouraged Catholics to help liberate the poor and powerless from oppression in all forms. Priests, nuns and lay people who supported the movement went to work in local communities as literacy teachers, health workers and educators. Although the Vatican does not support the movement, liberation theology is still very influential in South America.
Uruguay has a small minority of Protestants, which includes a group called the Waldensians. This group originated in the Alpine areas of southern France and northern Italy in the 13th century. The Waldensians opposed many Catholic practices and were persecuted for their beliefs. In the 19th century, several groups of Waldensians emigrated to Uruguay and Argentina. They founded the Colonia Valdense on the River Plate in the 1850s. This was one of the earliest Protestant communities in South America.
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Just outside Montevideo, in the town of Atlántida, is a remarkable church designed by Uruguayan engineer and architect Eladio Dieste and built in 1959. The brick walls of the church curve in and out like the waves of the sea.