This old Catholic ritual is giving Brazil’s economy a small boost…

Economics and religion is always interesting to read.

Bernardo Figueiredo of RMIT University and Daiane Scaraboto of Universidad Católica de Chile have a fascinating piece. They point how an old Catholic ritual of circulating small sanctuaries containing a Virgin Mary statuette among households creates its own small economy:

Brazilians are moving away from Catholicism. Today, fewer than 50 percent of Brazilians identify as Roman Catholic, down from 92 percent in 1970. But after 500 years in South America, the Catholic Church remains deeply enmeshed Brazil’s economy and society.

Among its many footholds is a little-known tradition called the Movimento das Capelinhas, or “small chapel movement.” This phenomenon, which takes place in hundreds of cities and towns across Brazil, centers on the circulation among Catholic households of small sanctuaries containing a Virgin Mary statuette.

The Movimento das Capelinhas is an example of a circulation-based collaborative network, a kind of hyper-local economy that is popping up across the globe, from one London district’s alternative currency to the time banks of New Zealand.

Such systems appeal because they exchange a narrow focus on economic value (only money matters) for a broader definition of what has value to people. By circulating dear objects in a certain pattern, these collaborative networks distribute their benefits to all involved, and the “profit” goes well beyond the small economic bump communities may see.

The small chapel movement forms part of a long history of Roman Catholic rituals involving sacred relics and statues sent out to tour the world’s parishes.

Protected by their wooden homes, Brazil’s moving Marys pay one-day “visits” to various parishioners’ homes in a semi-formal process determined by neighbors, parishes and lay volunteers. Most chapel groups include about 30 families, such that each family receives one visit a month. Local clergy oversee the Marys’ progress around town.

In doing their rounds, our research found, these peripatetic chapels do more than just physically circulate – their travels actually create profit and value for participants. The end result is a de facto local Catholic “economy,” one based on shared values rather than money.

Read the whole thing for their research  results…

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