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Folk Catholicism can be broadly described as any of various ethnic expressions and practices of Catholicism in Catholic communities. In general, when aspects of folk religion intermingle with Catholic beliefs in an area, folk Catholicism will result. Practices identified by outside observers as folk Catholicism have varied from place to place, and may at times contradict the official doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and general Christianity.
Some forms of folk Catholic practices are based on syncretism with non-Catholic or non-Christian beliefs or religions. Some of these folk Catholic forms have come to be identified as separate religions, as is the case with Caribbean and Brazilian syncretisms between Catholicism and West African religions, which include Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé.
Similarly complex syncretisms between Catholic practice and indigenous or Native American belief systems, as are common in Maya communities of Guatemala and Quechua communities of Peru to give just two examples, are typically not named as separate religions; their practitioners generally regard themselves as good Catholics even while worshiping non-Christian gods.
Other folk Catholic practices are local elaborations of Catholic custom which do not contradict Catholic doctrine and practice. Examples include compadrazgo in modern Iberia, Latin America and the Philippines, which developed from standard medieval European Catholic practices that fell out of favor in Europe after the seventeenth century; the veneration of some local saints, and pilgrimages in medieval and modern Europe. Folk Catholic practices occur where Catholicism is a major religion, not only in the often-cited cases of Latin America and the West Indies. Folk accommodations between Catholicism and local beliefs can be found in Gaelic Scotland, the Philippines, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Poland, and southern India.
In Ireland, openly Catholic worship was banned due to the Penal Laws. This led to storytellers inventing their own tales so as to teach the Gospel or add further lessons. These further lessons however often ended up contradicting the teaching of the Catholic Church. Within these stories a variety of recurring characters and themes appear such as the Virgin Mary, priests, Paul the Apostle, Satan and Jesus himself.
In the Philippines, the custom of Simbang Gabi developed from the farming community. Simbang Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of Masses leading up to Christmas. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for "Rooster's Mass"). It has an important role in Philippine culture. It has its origins in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. Despite being exhausted by a long day's labor, the people would still attend the customary evening novenas. In 1669, the priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. This cherished Christmas custom eventually became a distinct feature of Philippine culture and became a symbol of sharing.
The Roman Catholic Church takes a pragmatic and patient stance towards folk Catholicism. For example, it may permit pilgrimages to the site of reported apparitions (e.g. Međugorje) without endorsing or condemning belief in the reported apparitions, and will often declare Marian apparitions and similar miracles "worthy of belief" (e.g. Our Lady of Fatima), or will confirm the cult of local saints without actually endorsing or recommending belief. When the Roman Catholic Church considers that there is a blatant heresy occurring, it actively rejects it and tells Catholics to stay away from such practices. This is the case of the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death, a personification and veneration of death). The Church has condemned the cult as blasphemous, calling it a "degeneration of religion".
Popular Catholicism in the worldEdit
Some popular forms of Catholicism resulting from syncretism with non-Catholic beliefs are considered as religions apart, in the case, for example, of Caribbean or Brazilian admixtures between the Catholic religion and animist cults from West Africa, which include Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, and Brazilian candomblé.
Similar complex syncretisms between Catholic rituals and indigenous or Native American belief systems, common in both Maya communities in Guatemala and Quechua communities in Peru, to name just two examples, are not currently classified as separate religions; their practitioners generally consider themselves good Catholics even while worshiping non-Christian deities.
Other popular Catholic practices incorporate local elaborations of Christian customs that do not conflict with Catholic ritual and doctrine. Examples include ritual cogenitoriality ('co-parenting', 'godparenting') centered on the role of the compare (padrino, madrino) for children in the modern Iberian Peninsula, Latin America, and Philippines, which developed from medieval Catholic practices that fell into disuse in Europe after the seventeenth century; the veneration of certain local saints; and the pilgrimages of medieval and modern Europe. Forms of popular Catholicism occur in every way where Catholicism tends to be the prevailing religion, not only in the oft-cited cases of Latin America and the West Indies. Popular adaptations of Catholicism to local beliefs can be found in Scotland Gaelic, Philippines, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Poland, and southern India.
The Roman Catholic Church generally shows a pragmatic and tolerant attitude toward popular Catholicism. It may, for example, allow pilgrimages to places where appearances are reported, e.g. Međugorje, without endorsing or condemning belief in these visions, sometimes declaring Marian apparitions "worthy of belief", e.g. Our Lady of Fátima, and other miracolistic phenomena, or confirming the worship of local saints without actually endorsing or recommending belief.
If the Roman Catholic Church believes there is an overt heresy going on, it actively rejects it and warns Catholics to stay away from such practices. Such is the case with the Mexican cult of Santa Muerte (Santa Morte), personification and veneration of death: the church has condemned the cult as blasphemous, calling it a "degeneration of religion."
In the Philippines, among the most relevant forms of popular Catholicism is the novena Christmas known as Simbang Gabi, which arose within the farming community and consists of a nine-day devotional gesture of masses in preparation for Christmas. On the last day of Simbang Gabi, which coincides with Christmas Eve, the most important service is held, called in Spanish Misa de Gallo ("Mass of the Rooster").
This is an ancient tradition celebrated since 1669, brought to the Philippines by Spanish missionaries: originally, the nine masses were held very early in the morning, because most of the country's inhabitants were farmers who had to go to work before dawn, to avoid being in the fields during the hottest hours of the day.
While evening novenas were more common in the rest of the Hispanic world, this Christmas custom eventually became a distinctive feature of Philippine culture and a symbol of shared participation of popular faith.
- the common sense of belonging to the Catholic Church, which precisely in Italy has its headquarters;
- diffuse traditional forms of devotion towards Jesus, Madonnas, angels, saints and patrons, present in every Italian region and linked to sanctuaries, symbols, relics and religious holidays;
- Finally, the charitable and formative activity of numerous Catholic aggregations with charitable and cultural purposes.
Fundamental historical events that contributed to the formation of popular Italian Catholicism were the Counter-Reformation, consequent to the Council of Trent, during which the countryside in particular was invested by the educational renewal of the Church, and then the social and civil commitment of the Catholic movementism between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This would be a legacy still alive, surviving today's secularization, in front of which the Church itself would be called upon to choose between a pastoral support to these forms of popular culture or a preference for an exclusively elite spirituality.
Among the most popular saints and patrons in Italy is San Pio (Padre Pio), followed by others such as Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francesco), Santa Rita of Cascia, St. Joseph, St. Michael, Mother Teresa, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Rosalia, Januarius, St. Agatha, St. Ambrose, St. Catherine of Siena. In the popular fabric of the peasant world, the presence of the sacred would still be associated, since remote times, with rites of traditional magic called in Sicily, benedicaria, which is the name by which it was made known in America by emigrants, but practiced for example also in the Po Valley by the strolghe (Italian: le streghe, 'witches'), based on the knowledge of herbs, formulas and spells used together with the sacraments and prayers of the Catholic Church.
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