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When Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Uruguay’s then President José Mujica didn’t attend the inauguration.  “Uruguay is a totally lay country,” explained Mujica at the time. “There is separation of church and state since the last century. Uruguay is different from the rest of Latin America regarding this. We have great respect, there is freedom of worship, but we are not believers.”

In Uruguay there is a strict separation of church and state, which dates from the end of the nineteenth century when young liberals were reportedly opting for the “pleasures of the countryside” rather than respecting religious holidays like Easter.

In 1886, a newspaper from Salto tutted over the hunting expeditions preferred by “young people in our society who care nothing for excommunication and other trifles”. Today Salto is a major Tourism Week destination for Uruguayans who at the first onset of autumn flock to the hotsprings there.

My grocer, a guy called Marcelo, takes one holiday a year – to go hunting during Tourism Week.

In 1909, under the influence of reformist President Jose Batlle y Ordonez, religious instruction in public schools was banned, and a complete separation of church and state was written into the 1917 Constitution, continuing to this day.

By 1919, all religious holidays were secularised.

Epiphany (January 6) became known as Childrens’ Day (it’s a day when in Catholic cultures children receive presents) and Easter as Tourism Week.

I can testify – everyone here refers to Easter as “la Semana de turismo”. It’s not a case of officious political correctness.

Further reading

Photo: The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Iglesia del Cerrito) in Montevideo

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