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The Catholic Church in Brazil is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome, and the influential National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (Portuguese: Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil - CNBB), composed by over 400 primary and auxiliary bishops and archbishops. There are over 250 dioceses and other territorial jurisdictions in Brazil. The primate of Brazil is Dom Murilo Ramos Krieger.
The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the country, where 130 million people, or 64.6% of the Brazilian population, are self-declared Catholics. These figures makes Brazil the single country with the largest Catholic community in the world.
According to the tradition, the first Mass celebrated in Brazil took place on Easter Sunday of the year 1500.It was celebrated by a priest who arrived in the country along with the Portuguese explorers to claim possession of the newfound land. However, the first diocese in Brazil was only erected more than 50 years later, in 1551.
Brazil's strong Catholic heritage can be traced to the Iberian missionary zeal, with the 15th-century goal of spreading Christianity. The Church missions began to hamper the government policy of exploiting Natives. In 1782 the Jesuits were suppressed, and the government tightened its control over the Church.
Catholicism was enforced during colonial rule, then in 1824 became the official religion of an independent Brazil that also guaranteed freedom of religion for its citizens. The Brazilian government has been secular since the Constitution of 1891, though the Church remained extremely politically influential until nowadays. In the late 19th century, the Catholic population of Iberian origin was reinforced by a large number of Italian Catholics who immigrated to Brazil, as well as some Polish and German Catholic immigrants. In 1889 Brazil became a republic and approved a constitution separating the Church from the State, a trend followed by all of the country's seven republican constitutions. Prior to that, during the Empire of Brazil, Catholicism was the official religion of the country. In practice, however, separation of Church and state in the country is very weak; government officials generally avoid taking action that may offend the Church.
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