Suriname, The Catholic Church in
SURINAME, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Formerly known as Dutch Guiana, the Republic of Suriname is located in northern South America, and is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by French Guiana, on the south by Brazil and on the west by Guyana. Part of the region between the mouth of the Amazon and that of the Orinoco River that was once known as Guiana, Suriname is characterized by northern mountains falling to a forested plateau and savannah through which cross many rivers. Rice, citrus, bananas and sugarcane grown near the coast account for much of the region's agriculture, while natural resources include bauxite, gold, iron ore and aluminum. The southernmost portions of the country, consisting of a nature reserve in the Amazon basis, have yet to be fully explored.
Formerly a part of the Netherlands realm of South America, Suriname gained independence in 1975. The region's mixed population includes blacks descended from 17th-nd 18th-century slaves and East Indians descended from 19th-century immigrants. The Christian Churches include Roman Catholic, Moravian, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran and Episcopalian. There are also Muslims and Hindus represented in the area.
History. The region is named for the Surinen, its original inhabitants, although they had abandoned the region by the 16th century. In 1593 Spanish explorers entered the region, followed by Dutch settlers in 1602. Although a British settlement was well established in the area after 1651, the Treaty of Breda granted Suriname to the Dutch in 1667 (the British received the region that would later be called New York in exchange). Catholicism was introduced along the coast in 1683, but the strong post-reformation Dutch influence as well as the presence of slavery proved discouraging to missionary activity. Although Great Britain intermittently wrested control of the region away from the Netherlands, a series
of new treaties ultimately returned the region to the Dutch in 1816. During the 19th century a large majority of Suriname's African workers were converted to the Moravian Church, which by 2000 counted among its adherents 16 percent of the population (see donders, peter). Catholic evangelization also began in earnest c. 1817.
As Dutch Guinea, the region became part of the Netherlands in 1948, and two years later was granted limited home rule. In 1954 Suriname became an autonomous territory of the Netherlands, and as the result of ethnic violence and economic problems it was granted full independence on Nov. 25, 1975. Within five years the civilian government was toppled by a military regime let by Col. Dési Bouterse, who ruled until 1990. Ethnic violence by various guerilla groups continued to flare during the 1980s, and a subsequent coup during 1990 resulted in free elections the following year; a formal peace treaty was signed with the region's assorted guerilla groups in 1992. The new civilian government's attempts to tackle Suriname's economic woes were ineffective, and by 1997 the inflation rate stood at a staggering 70 percent. In 2000 a new coalition government was elected in hopes that it would improve the economy, which then boasted a 20 percent unemployment rate.
Acknowledging the region's tradition of religious diversity, the Surinamese government allowed for freedom of worship, and religious groups were not required to register with the state. By 2000 there were 27 parishes tended by six secular and 15 religious priests. Nine brothers and 23 sisters, who aided in the operation of the 58 primary schools and 11 secondary schools run by the Church, administered to the humanitarian needs of the region. While the Church continued its evangelical efforts, U.S.sponsored Baptist missionaries were increasingly active in the region. Tragically, in August of 1996 a fire of suspicious origin destroyed the archives of the Catholic diocese, although its main target was believed to be the country's House of Parliament, situated nearby. Drug and gun trafficking, as well as money laundering, continued to be among the problems addressed by the Church as it sought ways to stabilize Surinamese society after decades of political unrest.
Bibliography: e. m. dew, The Difficult Flowering of Suriname: Ethnicity and Politics in a Pluralistic Society (Netherlands 1991). Annuario Pontificio has data on all dioceses.