We get asked that question a lot and the easy answer is no, in Portugal there is no religious persecution. The laws in Portugal give each person freedom to choose what religion to follow. When the present constitution was approved in 1975, Portugal became a country with no official state religion. As for the population, 81% of the country is Roman Catholic and there are less than 1% born again Christian believers.
Because the laws in Portugal allow freedom of religion, we have had no problems meeting as Christians, organizing churches, performing weddings and funerals, witnessing, etc. In view of the persecutions that we hear about in other parts of the world, it would be totally unfair to describe the few hardships we’ve had in Portugal as persecution.
Because of its history, Portugal has very close ties with the Roman Catholic church and the culture is very much influenced by this religion. Sometimes people assume that only Catholics can do a certain thing, but that is cultural and not legal. Here are a few examples of things that we have experienced because of the cultural bias in favor of the Roman Catholic Church:
- Evangelism (1): Because of the many English speaking people in the Southern part of the country, we have an English service on Sunday afternoon. When we were first trying to put up notices of our services at the hotels’ notice boards, we were told at two hotels, even though these were privately owned businesses, that we had to get permission from the priest.
- Evangelism (2): I was told to stop giving out tracts on the street in front of our public market. They told me that it was advertising and that I needed a paid advertising license. I had to go get the city’s regulation to show that tracts are not considered advertising, and then I was allowed to continue.
- Hospital visits: each major hospital has a hired Catholic chaplain. This person (usually a priest) controls the religious visitation regardless of the person’s religious affiliation. Even though this seems to be changing, we have been denied access to one of our people in a hospital, while the priest has full access 24 hours a day.
- Weddings: a Catholic wedding has civil status, while other faiths have to have a civil wedding at the registrars office, plus their church wedding. The law that changes this has been approved for many years, but lacks the necessary regulation.
- Funerals: Even the cemetery chapels that belong to the government are, for the most part, decorated as Catholic churches, with many images of different saints. As we only had a store front building, we had to choose to have only a grave site ceremony.
Like I said, these events cannot be considered persecution. They are only minor cultural constraints. For the most part, Portugal is, for now, a wide open door of opportunity to share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.