We hope you will find these brief summaries of the main religious tradtions of the world helpful
and a starting point to learning more about other faith traditions.
The Eucharist is the central act of the Catholic faith. The daily celebration of Eucharist
is called the mass. At mass the Catholic community, led by its priest or bishop, gathers to
hear God's word proclaimed, and to make present Jesus' sacrificial death through the offering
of bread and wine. In the consecration of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, Christ
is really and mysteriously made present. Through the Eucharist, Catholics give God thanks and
are empowered to live out their faith.
Catholics come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through Scripture, the Church
and in a particular way through the seven sacraments, which are sacred rites of initiation
(baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), healing (anointing of the sick, reconciliation), or
vocation (marriage, orders).
Catholics find the source of their beliefs in God's revelation, witnessed to in Sacred
Scripture (the Bible) and in the church's living tradition and worship. Tradition is shaped
by creeds, council documents, the liturgy as a living expression of faith, the teachings of
the pope and bishops and the practice of the faithful throughout the centuries. Jesus
selected Peter and the Apostles to lead the early Christian community. Their successors became
known as bishops, who, along with priests and deacons, guide and build up the people of God
through preaching, celebrating sacraments and working for unity. These ordained ministers are
assisted in this work by the laity. The pope, who is Bishop of Rome, exercises the ministry of
unity for the worldwide Church.
Catholics choose a specific way of life to help them to follow Jesus: marriage, single life,
religious life, or ordained ministry. One of the most important ways Catholics imitate Jesus
is by taking care of those in need: people who are poor, sick, marginalized, or oppressed.
They also work to change unjust social structures. To do this, Catholics have established
institutions such as schools, hospitals, social service agencies and relief organizations
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is revered by Catholics as the mother of God. She is venerated -
not worshipped - as an example of faith, purity, and courage. Catholics also honor as saints
those men and women whose lives are heroic examples of Christian virtue. Catholics believe in
the communion of all the faithful, both living and dead.
The Catholic Church is a global communion of 23 autonomous ritual churches numbering over one
billion persons ("catholic" means universal). Nationally the number is 62 million.
The Orthodox Christian Churches believe themselves to be inheritors of the Church established
by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and identify themselves as the indigenous Christian
Communities of the Middle East the Balkans, Northeast Africa, and Russia. As such, they believe
in One God, who is worshiped in Trinity: Orthodox Christians mystically and liturgically
experience a God who loves humankind and is manifest in the lives of the Thokos" (i.e. Mother
of God) and Saints throughout the centuries. Surrounded by this saintly "cloud of witnesses"
(Hebrews 122:1), followers of this ancient faith also endeavor to somehow embody "the love of
God the Father" for all people and creation.
For the first one thousand years, all Christians - East and West - shared this common biblical
faith and experience. However, in the year 1054 C.E. Christianity split into basically two
communities: The Roman (and later Anglo-Catholic and Protestant) Churches in the West; and,
the Ordothox Churches in the East. Some of the most fundamental differences between these
communities have had to do with divergent world views and cultures. Historically, the Orthodox
East has tended to emphasize mystical experience as opposed to structure and practicality. The
East also has traditionally functioned in a way that gives power to the group (Synod) which
seeks truth in consensus among its members and ideally, amongst all believers. Also distinctive
is Orthodoxy's anthropology. It's a vision grounded in the reality of Christ the God-Human, a
vision of Human nature that is essentially good and ultimately destined to become Godlike by
grace (II Peter 1:4)
Eastern Christians emphasize the creation-changing reality that God's Spirit is "everywhere
present and filling all things," in part, by being both sense-oriented and ritual oriented.
Orthodox Christian Church buildings are full of richly-colored icons, or sacred, stylized and
painted images. Fragrant clouds of incense and the spiritual sounds of sacred chant combine
with this inconography to lift worshippers up and out of the familiar and ordinary into what
is unknown and extraordinary. This is why ritual is so important to the Orthodox: because it
can communicate realities that are far beyond thoughts and words. Through sacred arts and
ceremonies, through vegetarian fasting and ascetic struggles, through the preaching of God's
Word and celebration of the Divine Mysteries (Sacraments), Eastern Christians experience and
grow into the fullness of God's Presence. There is in this tradition a radical continuity of
experience between the heroic ancestors and struggling modern Orthodox believers. Somehow,
they continue to breathe the very spiritual and cultural air of the ancient Christian world.
The world community of Orthodox Churches (numbering 125,000,000) has been an active participant
in the ecumenical movement since its beginnings. Their leaders have for decades demonstrated
a deep commitment to dialogues of truth and love, valuing respect, honesty, and cooperation
among the followers of all religions. Embracing the ethos of their chief shepherd, the
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Orthodox seek to grow in understanding of different
others as a first step toward fulfilling Christ's own prayer, "That they may all be one."
There are more than 4 million Orthodox Christians in the United States.
Anglicans trace their roots back to the early Church and their separate identity to the
post-Reformation expansion of the Church of England and other Episcopal or Anglican Churches.
Historically, there were two main stages of development of the Communion. From the 17th century,
Anglicanism was established alongside colonization in the United States, Australia, Canada, New
Zealand and South Africa. The second stage began in the 18th century when missionaries worked
to establish Anglican Churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Anglican Churches uphold and proclaim the Catholic and Apostolic faith, based on the creeds and
scripture, interpreted un the light of Christian tradition, scholarship and reason. Following
the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Churches are committed to the proclamation of the Good News
of the Gospel to the whole of creation.
By baptism with water, in the name of God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit - a person is made one
with Christ and received into the Church.
Central to worship for Anglicans is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (also called the Holy
Communion, Lord's Supper, the Mass). In this offering of prayer and praise are recalled the
ife, death, and Resurrection of Christ, through the proclamation of the Word and celebration of
Worship is at the very heart of Anglicanism. Its styles vary from the simple to the elaborate,
from Evangelical to Catholic, from charismatic to traditional or even a combination of these
various traditions. The Book of Common Prayer, in its various revisions throughout the
Communion, gives expression to the comprehensiveness found within the Church whose principles
reflect, since the time of England's Elizabeth I, its relation to other Christians.
Other sacraments include Confirmation, Holy Orders, Reconciliation, Marriage, and Anointing of
There are 2.5 million baptized members of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
There are more than 800 million Protestants around the world, with major Protestant bodies
being Methodist, Lutheran, Calvinist (Presbyterian and Reformed) and the Anabaptist tradition
(Baptist, Mennonite and others), as well as the Evangelical and Pentecostal movements (Church
of God in Christ, Assemblies of God and others). In the United States, over 125 million people
identify themselves as members of denominations within Protestant Christianity.
Protestants are those Christians whose denominations trace their roots to the Protestant
Reformation of the 16th century CE. The churches of the Reformation made significant changes
in the traditional Christian worship, emphasizing the central place of the sermon, participation
of the laity in liturgy, and singing of congregational hymns. Unlike Roman Catholicism's seven
sacraments, Protestants generally recognize only two: Baptism and Holy Communion or Eucharist.
Key Protestant beliefs emphasize the authority of scripture, the sovereignty of God, the
essential element of personal faith or salvation, and the freedom of individual conscience.
The Bible is central to the practice of the Protestant faith and life. The writings of early
church fathers, especially Augustine and reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldreich
Zwingli and the later Protestant theologians such as John and Charles Wesley are an important
part of Protestant thought and practice. In the American Protestant experience, important early
leaders include Jonathan Edwards, Roger Williams, Richard Allen, and Lon Cary.
The Historic Black or "Freedom" Churches - African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist
Episcopal Zion, Baptist and Christian Methodist Episcopal- were formed in the latter part of
the eighteenth century in the United States.
Because segregated worship was endorsed by many Christian denominations in the North and the
South, African Americans broke away from existing churches and created their own institutions.
These churches were a constant source of leadership and support in the fight against slavery
and for equal rights. Some of the leading figures of the abolitionist movement were preachers
from the Freedom Churches, including Nat Turner, Hiram Revels, Sojpourner Truth, Harriet Tubman
and Frederick Douglas.
Today, as with other protestant traditions, the Historic Black Churches express an openness to
all people who seek God. The freedom Churches have consistently had members of other races. The
same commitment to freedom which propelled the movement to free itself guarantees the inclusion
of all who wish to join.
The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek word evangelion which means good news or gospel.
The good news is the God has sent His son Jesus Christ to rescue a dislocated world from its
sinful condition. By death on the cross, Jesus has paid the penalty for sin and set us free to
serve God. by His resurrection, Jesus Christ has overcome the power of death and established
for us a new life. Christ will return at the end of history to put away evil forever and
establish the new heavens and the new earth. Those who believe and live out this message are
"born again." Evangelicalism is a movement within the church that gives primacy to this
message. Evangelicals call upon people to be converted to Jesus, to live by His teachings
and to tell the good news to others.
Judaism is the world view, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people,
living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the
pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year old heritage in a wide
variety of ways and identify themselves along a spectrum of practice and belief, from liberal
Reform to Orthodox Jews. As a way of life, Judaism also includes the social and cultural
history of a widespread and diverse community of people, some of whom do not think of
themselves as "religious".
Islam in Arabic literally means "submitting" or "submission". One who submits or surrenders
his or her will to God is called Muslim. While the whole of God's creation is described as
being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to follow or reject God's will,
as revealed in the Qur'an. What we now call the Islamic tradition was born in the Arabian
Peninsula in the seventh century. Today, there are more than one billion Muslims, living all
over the world.
American Indian religions are a way of life - practiced to maintain proper balance and an
integral relationship to the Universe, to the Earth, to infinity, not detached by virtue of
intellect or reason. The Sacred Life-Ways of American Indian people are as diverse as their
representative tribes / Nations, based on individual and family stories, languages, heredity,
and environment. These ways of life are kept through songs, rituals, dance, symbols and
Past misconceptions have led to a limited understanding of the true nature of American Indian
Sacred Ways. For example, names such as Gitche Manitou (Anishinabe), Taiowa (Hopi), Wakan Tanka
(Lakota), Sakoiatisan (Iroquois), describe a mysterious force that dwells outside our
understanding. A basic concept is that all things are interconnected, related and are part of
the Great Mysterious Force.
There can be no generalizations made about American Indians' ways of worship. One can observe
how these ways are practiced and preserved through common prayer forms and attitudes as well
as ceremonial story-telling, songs, dance and food sharing.
American Indian religious traditions are also in process of adaptation. While many maintain
their core symbols and expressions (the circle and four directions symbols are a part of many
American Indian cultures) others have developed into new religious movements (the Native
American Church, the Iroquois Longhouse Religion). Thus, American Indians' traditions are
constantly changing. For example, perhaps half of contemporary American Indians also identify
themselves, at least nominally, as Christians and many as Traditional and Christian.
There are over 2,475,000 American Indians nationwide, according to the 2000 Census.
A Note About the Use of "American Indian"
American Indian is a political term defining each of the Native Nations as political entities
with dependent sovereignty, Nations within a Nation. It is most appropriate to use individual
tribal names when possible and otherwise to choose a term considered most reasonably acceptable
to the diverse tribal communities.
Religious persecution has been a reality for American Indians, resulting in the loss of
language and traditional practices. Although the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of
1978 removed some restrictions on traditional practices, more legal guarantees are needed
for the respect and protection for American Indian sacred sites, burial remains and ritual
objects. Many American Indians are cautious toward interested outsiders due to centuries of
persecution and repression.