USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Santo Toribio Romo and Protection

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G. learned this story from his mother who had friends that had crossed the border into the United States from Mexico. Given that Catholicism is a popular religion in that region, many people look to the patron saints for guidance in times of confusion or fear. The saint, Toribio Romo, has become one that immigrants pray to for assistance while crossing the boarder, and has become a widely known figure in the Mexican domination of religion as a result. I have transcribed A.G.’s telling of the story below:

Main Piece

“Before my mom’s friend crossed the border from Mexico to the United States, he did a lot of preparation and praying for the trip. He also talked to a lot of my friends about people they knew that had gone and arrived safely and one of them told him a story about the Santo Toribio Romo. His friend’s  family had traveled across the boarder with another group of their friends. They traveled throughout the day and the night and only stopped when it was necessary but one day, they got lost and then ran out of food and water for a couple of days. They kept walking but had no idea which way to go. As they were walking tough, one of the people in the group said that he saw an oasis and a man who looked like a priest standing next to it telling them to go where he was. Everyone figured that the man was hallucinating from the desert, but they all followed him and hoped it was the way to go. When they went towards the oasis direction, they found out it was the right way to go and eventually made it to the United States. When they all arrived and settled down, the man who claimed to have seen the oasis called his wife and told her what he saw. She told him that it was because she prayed for Santo Toribio Romo to guide them and he was the one who appeared to them near the oasis.”

Thoughts

This story impacted A.G. in its general message of family and the strength of family ties, even in times of separation and turbulence. The initial fear that is experienced when a family must separate in order to immigrate is captured in the story itself, but also the strength and love that is expressed, especially by those that are not making the initial journey with their family. A.G. remarked that the story gave him hope, because to him it illustrated the importance of having family and people who care about you to pray for you and be there for you when you need them, even if they can’t be physically present. It also meant a lot to him, given that his family had experienced something similar and he felt a particular cultural tie to the experience.

There are many stories and variations of stories in which a saint or a guardian angel comes down and intervenes of behalf of the believer and to their benefit. I find that these stories, and belief in them serve the purpose of both inspiring hope, and in validating the religion and the existence of supernatural or other-wordy occurrences that are related to Christianity. Stories like this are important for the morale of people in difficult times, as they can offer a glimmer in an otherwise incredibly difficult situation, yet they still benefit the religion overall if people experience or hear of experiences related to saints.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Catholic Proverb

Main Piece:

“Leave it all in God’s hands.”

 

Context: The informant learned this proverb from her mother. They are of Catholic background. The informant described the proverb as meaning, “No matter what decisions or situations we are in, leave it all in God’s hands because he wants what is best for us, so he will lead us in the direction we need to go in.”

 

Analysis:

It seems that when people feel that they have no control on some aspect of their life, they find comfort in saying this proverb because it reassures them that someone is watching over them and will help them anyway possible. Saying this proverb is a form of comfort for many individuals.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fountain of Mercy prayer

Main Piece: The Fountain of Mercy prayer takes place at 3 o’clock (either AM or PM), as this is considered a special hour where prayers will be more powerful. If you pray with your rosary at this time, it is said that all of your prayers will be answered. For each of the rosary beads, you pray that Jesus has mercy on a certain person, and it is common to list family and close friends. “However, towards the end you realize that you run out of people. There are about 20 beads on that thing – you’re gonna run out of names, so you start listing random people. Like, ‘have mercy for that one person I saw on the bus early last week,’ and ‘have mercy on the person at the checkout counter.’” The prayer is uniquely designed to force people to think about and pray for other people besides themselves: “It forces me to remember that other people outside of my direct orbit exist while I’m existing, too.”

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. OC originally heard the prayer from her mom and cousin; she has always remembered it because Paraguayan culture highly values family and taking care of others, which is what the Fountain of Mercy prayer reinforces. Personally, the informant cannot perform the prayer every day at 3 o’clock because of her busy college schedule, but whenever she has a free moment to clear her mind, she does an abbreviated version and simply asks God to forgive certain people as well as herself.

Personal thoughts: I think it’s interesting to see how the informant adapts the prayer to her modern life, which reflects the disparity between her everyday life and the lives of her relatives in still living in Paraguay. As a first generation pre-med student who also works part-time, OC is working under the pressure to prove herself in a fast-paced, future-oriented America that values material success such as wealth. This American mindset directly contradicts the day-by-day, mindful lifestyle of her Paraguayan family. For example, her mother, who is still deeply connected to Paraguay, makes it a habit to perform the prayer every single day at 3pm, while OC almost scoffed at the idea of giving a whole hour of her schedule to prayer and nothing else. Rather, religious mindfulness comes secondary to the demands of America’s demanding education system, begging the question of whether modernity and future-oriented thinking (two concepts that are expanding more and more each year) can truly exist in perfect harmony with devout religiosity.

Folk speech
general

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Main piece: When in times of great stress or excitement, one will exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant first heard this exclamation-prayer from her Catholic family in Ireland, specifically her great-aunt, as they constantly use it all day everyday. Because the informant is not religious, she sometimes grows uncomfortable with overuse of it in casual conversation as it is a constant reminder of how she’s quite different from the rest of her family in terms of spiritual and moral beliefs. The prayer has stuck with her because of how different it is from American exclamations; when one of her visiting extended family members comes to the U.S., “JMJ” highlights their “otherness.”

Personal thoughts: Upon first read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” may not seem like a prayer at all, but rather an explanation. However, whenever someone is exclaiming these words, they are either a) asking for help in a time of stress, or b) giving thanks for something unexpected/exciting happening, which are really the two key functions of prayers. What’s nice about the JMJ prayer is that it’s more modern in the sense that its text is shorter in length, and therefore more palatable and digestible to the average, on-the-go American. Out with traditional words and rituals, and in with quick, trendy expressions that double as prayers! JMJ is also interesting because it offers a sly alternative to taking the Lord’s name directly in vain, which devout Christians tend to avoid on the basis of their faith. By exclaiming, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, you’re invoking powerful names in the bible, but you’re not directly saying “Oh, my God.” It’s a barely-there distinction, since Jesus is considered synonymous with the Lord in many ways, but the inclusion of Joseph and Mary somewhat soften the bite of taking Jesus’s name in vain. And by the time you reach the end of the phrase and have named all three, your local Catholic mother might’ve forgotten you even mentioned Jesus in the first place.

Legends
Narrative

The Mountain of el Espiritu Michoacan

So where my dad lives, el Espiritu Michoacan, there’s a big mountain with a large cross that is visible to the naked eye at the top. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but they say that religious groups took it there on horseback. The wood used was so big that they needed a lot of people and lot of horses to move it or transport it. There’s a story that after it was built, many people were at the top of the mountain and I guess praying or worshipping… and because it’s at the top of the mountain, they got dizzy when they were staring at the cross. They thought that the cross was falling or that the sky was falling and they began to run, and some people maybe got hurt and fell down because it’s steep. They also say that the people might have been partying, so they could have been drunk or intoxicated or something. You know, your depth perception isn’t great under those circumstances. So they were being punished by God.

Context: The informant’s father is from Michoacan, and he has visited the state almost yearly since his childhood. He heard this story from his father.

Interpretation: This story has a cautionary element that warns audiences not to mix worship with intoxication for fear of punishment. It also seems reminiscent of Judgment Day, where worshippers are evaluated as the world appears to end (i.e. the sky is falling). It also suggests the power of religion, both in that it brought people together to build and transport the cross and that it is powerful enough to send a large group of people falling down a mountain. The fact that this story is widely spread in the area shows that the people of el Espiritu Michoacan value religion and are dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity (more specifically, Catholicism).

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating 12 Grapes on New Year’s Eve

Interviewer: What is being performed? New Year’s Eve Tradition by Elisa Alfonso

 

Informant: Eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: It’s a Spanish tradition that is practiced in Cuba. I know about it because I do it with my      family every year and uh I learned it from my Cuban relatives, specifically my grandmother.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: Camaguey, Cuba

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: I don’t belong to it but I believe it comes from Catholicism.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: From my grandmother

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: I know that it’s a superstition. And that each grape is supposed to represent a month of good luck in the New Year.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: I really like this tradition because it makes me feel more connected to my culture and my family and it’s a fun thing to do every year. I’ve no idea where this tradition comes from or how it started, but my family has been doing it my whole life. It’s just something fun to do together.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- This reminds me of the marketing campaign by Nathan’s Famous to have a timed hot dog eating contest on July 4th and a little research shows that ‘las doce uvas de la suerte’ was also started by marketers- grape growers with a surplus crop. Eight million people watch a midnight broadcast from Puerta del Sol each year. The 12 grape rule can devolve into a competition because they should be swallowed before the clock stops striking. For some grape eating strategies check here: http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/12/28/12-grapes-at-midnight-spains-great-new-years-eve-tradition-and-superstition/

 

Adulthood
Initiations

Kairos

JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives in Pasadena, CA.

JH talked to me about a school retreat he just went on, which they host every year:

“We have a different retreat every year, but the senior retreat is called ‘Kairos’…we spend like the last week of classes at a center near Santa Barbara, but they don’t really tell us where we’re going…we just left after school one day. It’s pretty religious-based and we talked a lot about God and the Catholic Church and stuff, but more of it was spiritual, like we talked about our personal relationship with God and spirituality and stuff. On the second day they surprised us with letters from our parents, and both of our parents had to write us a letter with stuff they may not have told us or with like, things they wanted us to know…some people got letters from siblings too, and they mostly talked about how we’re at an important transition in our lives, talking about becoming an adult and stuff. And then we all had to share a lot too, and people talked about really awful things that had happened in their past that we had no idea about, and our teachers and the priests did too…I think we all got a lot closer, opening up like that…I wasn’t expecting to really buy into the whole retreat thing, but I think I learned a lot in the end. When we got back, they led us into the auditorium where all our parents were sitting, and they were cheering for us, and we went and sat up on stage where they talked a little about the week, and then we all had to go up to the microphone and talk about our experiences that week, and then we would go and sit with our parents.”

I asked JH if he felt it was more of a religious retreat or a school/class retreat:

“Definitely more about our class than religion. The religion was a big part of it, but even just going to a Catholic school they were never necessarily trying to convert us or anything, and they were really inclusive both at the retreat and at the school like in general.”

My analysis:

A lot of high schools that have the resources put on these “retreats” for their students, especially at the end of senior year, or the end of their high school career. It helps usher these students through the liminal period, or help them slow down and understand the importance of the transition they’re in the midst of, and by emphasizing parental involvement JH’s school highlights the community aspect, where families would play a big role in celebrating the child’s transition to adulthood. This is actually the first kind of retreat I’d heard of that gave parents such a role – usually it revolves more around the school’s influence and presence in the students’ lives.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Las Perlas de la Virgen

Title: - Las Perlas de la Virgen

Interviewee: Armando Vildosola

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): Just me and my older brother Armando, as I asked him to share his most important pieces of wisdom that our family has shared throughout the generations. We do this every so often as some way to strengthen the bonds that we have as brothers, something of a brother meeting or a brotherly bonding session. We are sitting in our home in San Diego around our dinner table, having just finished dinner. Out house is full of family walking about visiting from Mexico. We are both on spring break from school at USC.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Las perlas de la Virgen”

Interviewer- “What is that?”

Interviewee- “Well it directly translates to the pearls of the Virgin. As in the Virgin Mary.”

Interviewer- “What does that mean to you?”

Interviewee- “Same thing it means to all Mexicans. It something that you use when you want to make fun of someone for valuing something too highly or when they expect too much. Something like, “You want me to pay you how much for that? What do you think that is, the pearls of the Virgin?” Things like that. It’s really common among all Mexicans.”

Interviewer- “Where did you first hear of this saying?”

Interviewee- “Oh everywhere in Mexico growing up. I remember that my mom specifically said it a lot, and soon when I was around 16 it found a way into the words that I use. I kind of starting using the words my mom used.”

Interviewer- “Why do you use it so much?”

Interviewee- “I don’t know really. I mean it’s just so easy to use and it’s really good for what it does. On one hand I guess that it does fill a need word-wise. But on the other hand using it reminds me of my mother, and my family that I have since lost. It makes me feel like a real Mexican when I use the phrase. I like it.”

Analyzation:

This saying is common throughout Mexico, and one can see that it connects the Interviewee with his culture, even when he is living in the United States. It means more to the Interviewee than other people, but that it just this once case. This phrase is derived from the Catholic faith, and it makes sense that Mexicans would use such a phrase. Mexico is after all the most Catholic country in the world, total percentage of the population wise. It only makes sense for their faith to become a part of their daily lives, including the way they speak.

Tags: Mexico, Saying, Catholicism

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Confirmation of Faith

Context:

I aksed one of my catholic friends if she had any traditions that her Church did.

 

Interview:

Me: Really, just whatever you have.

Informant: All right. I was just considering talking about Confirmation. Cause, I’m Catholic, well sort of-ish. I haven’t gone to church in a while, or done anything real religious in a while. But, maybe then I can talk about…Do you want an overview of what it is?

Me: I know more or less what it is, as I did go to a Catholic school for several years.

Informant: Then do you want a specific part, maybe what the actual ceremony is like?

Me: Yeah, maybe.

Informant: Okay. ‘Cause it is a two-year thing, well at least in my church. It might vary from church to church. And some places, the times at which you do confirmation vary some. Like some Catholics would do it younger. But I didn’t go to Catholic school, I just went to the church nearby.

Me: Yeah. At my school, we had the preparation for Confirmation, the class that would prepare us for Confirmation in eighth grade.

Informant: Today is the 26th, right?

Me: 25th, I believe. Okay. So just start talking then. So I went through something similar. I’m not Catholic but I am Protestant, but we went through a “Confirmation of Faith.” I remember that what we did was we wrote up a statement, like a one-page paper essentially confirming our faith.

Informant: Yeah. We did something like that, but it was more to choose your “saint name” – you had to research he saints, find one you liked and then do a little report on them and why you picked them.

Me: Interesting, ’cause I remember that my statement of faith was not what everyone else’s was like, what people were expecting. ‘Cause I did my confirmation of faith in my ninth grade, and we were studying the scriptures in our religion class in school. And so my statement was completely different from most people. ‘Cause most people were like writing about how the church has changed them, how they have so many fond memories of the church. I wrote about, I can’t even remember what exactly I wrote about, but it was completely more academic. It was like entirely academic or something.

Informant: Well the point of confirmation that they told us was that they wanted you to, it was when you become an adult in the eyes of the church. So you could go up and do readings for the church, you can serve the church in ways that you couldn’t before, when you weren’t confirmed. I mean, I can’t remember precisely what you were allowed to do after you were confirmed besides read in front of the church during the masses, it was probably organizing fundraisers or something like that. Anyway, that’s what they told us, and that’s why, instead of baptizing us in front of the church, which doesn’t count, because it is not performed with you’re consent, as you’re like only a baby, you have no idea what’s going on.

Me: Yeah, I know that that is one of the reasons why some religions wait until their children are old enough to be able to give their consent to baptize them.

Informant: I guess the thought was that you were baptized, but weren’t really thought of as a member until you were confirmed. So that was the point. Basically the way Confirmation worked was that you went to class on every other Sunday after church. You would all go to ten o’clock mass, you would all have to go to mass together, and when you were at mass, the people who were in confirmation were the ones who did the ushering, passed the collection plates around, brought the bread and wine up to the altar. So we would all have to go and show up for ten o’clock mass. And at my church ten o’clock was like the mass where you dress nice. Normally my family would go to eight o’clock because all you had to do was go there for an hour, hour and a half, get communion, and leave. But for ten o’clock mass you had to dress nice and you had to stay the whole time, cause you were in confirmation class, you couldn’t just leave early. And after that you had a class. The class was…it was about…they had this little Christian magazine thingy that they gave to you that you had to read through it. It had different aspects of the faith, different moral values, that kind of stuff. But mostly you had to do a lot of service – a lot of community service.

Me: Not surprising, yeah.

Informant: Yeah. It’s, actually during a lot of the time that we were talking about the magazine thingy we would do some kind of service thing. You had to do a certain amount of hours and there were all kinds of events that you could go to. Like, there was the winter sweet shop thing where you would help to bake cookies and would then help to sell them at the bake sale later that week. And the Easter thing where you would help plan the Easter egg hunt for the little kids who went to the church, and have a little Easter baskets and set up the place and stuff Easter eggs. Those are the two that I remember the most but there were other ones. There was one on Thanksgiving where we made lunches for the homeless, and another one where we made cards for Christmas or something. I can’t remember exactly.

Me: Yeah. I remember that we did community service in our youth group at church.

Informant: Yeah. That was more or less it. It’s  been a while after all. I do remember that one of the other important things was that you had to go up and read in front of the church, ’cause our church, and I’m not sure if it is structured differently with other Catholic churches, but there are three readings, the first two are from the first part of the Bible and the third one is the Gospel.

Me: Oh yeah. That’s pretty standard.

Informant: Yeah. So you had to go up and read one of those two readings and you had to do it at least once or once per year. And the first one that I had to do was the Palm Sunday reading, which was this really long reading right before the Gospel, and it was also the narrator which was the longest part. That was terrible. Thankfully, the people at church are forgiving, and said that I did fine. And one of the things that we had to do was we had to pick a saint name. We were told to go on the internet, to look up the different Catholic saints, choose which one you liked and have a one-page paper about who that saint is, what the represent, and why you picked them.

Me: Uh huh.

Informant: Yeah. So the one that I picked was Lucia, the patron saint of eyes, writing, light, and in her story, she was betrothed to this pagan person and she refused to get married to him so he had her eyes cut out, but she could still see without them, thus why she is the patron saint of eyes. Although, personally, I question, I guess, what’s so brave, still, there are braver things than being mutilated and dying. But maybe that’s just me. Also, it’s kind of funny that I have terrible eyesight and I chose the patron saint of eyes as my patron saint.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: So for the actual ceremony, which was at the end of the second year. It would be at a different church entirely and you would go with other churches who were in the same dioces. What I remember is that you had to dress nicely, but not fancy ballroom nicely, just church clothes nicely. You got a robe and you went in there for service with the bishop of the dices, and you stayed there and you would all go in a line. At least our class in particular had to do readings. After that, you come down, you are blessed as your saint name, you are a member of the church, shake hands with the bishop and then you leave to celebrate with your own families. And that was Confirmation.

 

Analysis:

The practice of confirmation became a tradition most likely around the time that people began baptizing children when they were infants, rather than when they were adults. There are three important milestones in a Catholic’s life, at least in terms of the church – baptism, which is performed soon after birth, first communion – which happens at about 7-8 years old, the “Age of Reason,” and confirmation – which happens around 14-16 years old. Confirmation became a tradition because it was the ceremony, the sacrament that made a person an official member of the church. Confirmation is a ceremony in which a person simply states their faith for the entire congregation to hear. It is a right of initiation, and those who go through it are then seen as adults in the eyes of the church, and anyone who is not confirmed will forever be seen as an outsider to the church, never a full member. It is a right of passage into adulthood, at least in the eyes of the church.

Folk Beliefs

St. Clare of Assisi.

The informant (L) is a senior film major at California State University Los Angeles. L also nannies on the weekends. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and attended Catholic schools before coming to Los Angeles for college. Though her interpretation of Catholicism is more modern than those of the previous generation, she still calls herself Catholic. I asked her if she had any religious folklore and she responded by telling me about the patron saint of television. She said that it was something her friends told each other and she had read in a book when she was about 10 years old. Below is the paraphrased story that she gave as the explanation as to how Saint Clare became the patron saint of television.

Saint Clare of Assisi was a nun in Italy many centuries ago. She was a very devoted nun and never missed a day of mass, ever. One day, however, she got sick and even though she wanted to go to mass, she just could not physically get her body to take her to mass. It was then, in her bedroom, that the Holy Spirit “projected the mass on the wall” of the bedroom so that she could still experience the mass without physically being at the mass. Because this is like what a television does, she was made into the patron saint of television even though she lived a long time before TVs even existed.

Though she had read this in a book, she did not know until later that it was “real” and that Pope Pius XII had actually made her the patron saint of television in the 1950’s. St. Clare is especially important to L because her school and future work life is entirely based on television and film.

It is important to note that L used the word “projected” to describe how St. Clare saw the mass, whereas the more religious sources (like http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-clare-of-assisi/) use other words like display and “able to see.” I think L’s choice of words connects St. Clare to the idea of television (as film etc. used to be projected on to a screen). Additionally, the fact that L skipped a lot of the other important things St. Clare did, like follow St. Francis and other religiously significant things, and got right to the part that mattered: how a saint became connected to television. This says a lot about the way L sees the story: it is a connection between her religion and the way she grew up and the life she is now leading. She feels connected to her religion through St. Clare.

 

[geolocation]