Faith on an Island…50 Years Ago

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My mother is from the Azores Islands, which are part of the country of Portugal. They are a group of nine islands between Portugal and the United States, out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. My mom is from São Jorge (Saint George), a rugged and beautiful island with about nine thousand inhabitants.

Like the rest of Portugal, it is a culturally Catholic country which has since become less “practicing”. She grew up in a dictatorship, in which everyone was homogenously Catholic. Since the revolution in 1975, politics have become more left-wing and religion has become more sparse. I love hearing stories about when she grew up because they are so different from my childhood growing up in California, a shorter time ago. Her childhood reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Here are her thoughts:

What were the main prayers and devotions within the home?

“We used to pray the rosary as a family. We prayed the guardian angel prayer in the morning and at night again. I had a little book of prayers that I got from boarding school and I used to read some of them (my brothers and sisters did not read them). Whenever there was a thunderstorm, people would ask Saint Barbara’s intercession. There was a saying that no one ever remembered Saint Barbara except for in thunderstorms.”

What were the main prayers and devotions outside the home?

“Processions were the major events, associated with the saints and the patron of the village. During special months, such as May and October, there were novenas. For nine days we would pray to the Blessed Virgin. A “triduum” was a three-day preparation for the processions and festivities, consisting of special Mass and sermon. Sometimes novenas also prepared the feasts. During “Holy Ghost season” (Easter to Pentecost), people prayed the rosary and sang in the home. There was an altar at one of homes in the village during this season where people gathered to sing.”

How was parish life? What were the main activities or groups other than the Mass?

“There was just catechesis for children. Adults were organized into groups that helped organize saints’ festivities. Confession was once a year. Some people honored the first Fridays of the month.”

In what ways was faith connected to culture or daily life?

“Religion did influence morality on the island. It was a deterrent for a lot of crime. People didn’t do things because God didn’t want them to do it. I think the Catholic Church on this island has lost a lot of impact these days because the younger generations don’t do things just because of tradition anymore. The ones who continue to practice Catholicism are more educated in their faith or participate in activities. Many continue to baptize their children, but mostly because it is part of the traditional heritage.”

What was the role of godparents?

“They were very close to the family and had a very deep friendship. They were supposed to give you gifts and honor you.”


(If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments!)

Julie Machado

Julie Machado

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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2 thoughts on “Faith on an Island…50 Years Ago”

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    Cool! All of my friends with Portuguese heritage trace their families to the Azores. Sugar Plantation companies in Hawaii went to the Azores to recruit families to work in the Sugar fields of Hawaii. My best man at my wedding, from the ‘De Costa’ family, is of Azorian descent!

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