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How the Catholic Church makes money with the faith?

by Alex Hales

In Spain, the Catholic Church is present everywhere: in schools and universities, in politics, in the economy and in tourism. There, religious festivals play an increasingly important role.

Good Friday procession in Seville.

According to data from the Episcopal Conference of Spain, there are 92 Catholic festivals in the country that have obtained the declaration of “Festivals of National Tourist Interest”; another 42 even bear the seal of “Festivals of International Tourist Interest”. These include the Holy Week processions in Seville and Malaga, the Adoration of the Virgen del Rocío, in the province of Huelva, and the Sanfermines in Pamplona. According to the Episcopal Conference, the turnover associated with religious festivals accounts for more than three percent of Spanish GDP.

The economic power of faith

“The pompous religious festivals are also a key reason why, according to a study by the flight website Jetcost, Spain was the most popular travel destination for Europeans during these Easter holidays,” the religion expert tells DW. Enrique Sancho: Pilgrims are welcome, above all, in hotels, shops and restaurants, since they spend more than twice as much as a common tourist, according to a study by the Galician University of Santiago de Compostela. ”, says Miguel Fernández, a brother from Sahagún, a town in the province of León, in an interview with DW.

The association of bull breeders “Unión de Criadores de Toros de Lidia” estimates that tourists spend around 45 million euros a year on Sanfermines, although it is not known whether the history of San Fermín -like that of the apostle Santiago , who is said to be buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia- is true. In the last ten years, and despite doubts, the number of pilgrims on the Jacobean route has more than doubled. Around 400,000 people walk the Camino to Santiago each year.

The number of pilgrims who make the Camino de Santiago has doubled in the last decade.

Training and tourism: the Church plays a relevant role

“It’s about unity with others, and not so much about faith. Foreigners like that. That’s why there is still enormous potential for Spain in that area,” says Sancho. Spain has launched, together with the Latin American countries, the International Congress on Religious and Sustainable Tourism, where priests and clerics exploit the economic possibilities of religion as a vacation destination. In 2021 this took place in Pamplona, ​​one of the best examples of how religion can become an economic factor for a city. Here the ultra-Catholic prelature Opus Dei created the University of Navarra, one of the best in Spain. Although there are more than 600 cases of sexual abuse still not clarified in the Church of Spain, as well as many cases of corruption,these do not seem to have harmed the business that can be done with religion.

It cannot be ignored that the Spanish Catholic Church assumes many tasks of the State. Its schools and universities are considered the best in the country. A 2016 EY Foundation study confirmed that the Spanish Church also takes on many state functions, saving taxpayers money. In 2016, the Church spent almost 1.4 billion euros, five times more than what Spaniards paid in church taxes.

In Spain there are 69 dioceses, 23,000 parishes and 750 monasteries, where education is provided, food is distributed and many other social services are provided. They also have many artistic treasures, which are promoted nationally and to promote tourism. According to the Conference of Archbishops, there are more than 1.5 million children in the 2,586 Catholic formation centers in Spain. In Germany, with twice the population, there are not even half as many religious schools.

Jesuits and Opus Dei have a lot of influence

The Jesuit-led business schools (ESADE), and the ultra-Catholic prelature of Opus Deí (IESE), have much influence on the country’s politics and economy. The current Spanish left-wing government tries to curb the power of the Church, but without success: “In Spain, more than anywhere else in Europe, faith is part of culture and also of tourism. Atheists also make pilgrimages and participate in the processions”, concludes Enrique Sancho.

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