Catholicism is by a long way the predominant religion, and the visit by Pope John Paul II in January 1981 on the occasion of the beatification of the Dominican Lorenzo Ruiz (martyred in the 17th century) gave rise to great displays of religious fervour. It must be observed, however, that although the Catholics of the Philippines accept the dogmas and practices of the Church they also honour certain ancient traditions which have been taken up into the Philippine version of Catholicism. These are usually mere additions, superstitions or exaggerations which are no doubt derived from the dramatic and luxuriant vigour of Spanish Catholicism. In country areas widows still mourn for a full year. During Holy Week some villages put on performances of the Passion with an intensity, violence and fanaticism which the Church itself condemns: the man playing Christ may carry realism to the point of having nails driven through his feet. Novenas (devotions lasting nine days) are a popular form of religious observance, and there are innumerable fiestas, which always begin in the local church but continue as purely pagan rejoicings. Thus the Ati-atihan procession is preceded by three days of samba dancing, begins with an open-air mass and then continues to the rhythm of the samba. The popularity of healers or medicine-men reflects a combination of profound Catholic faith and the veneration of spirits. The festivals of the religious calendar, particularly Christmas, are the occasion of large family gatherings which entail lavish expenditure and increase the family load of debt. The agricultural festivals in which the church takes part afford an opportunity of appealing to the spirits to send rain or thanking them after the harvest. The peasants will sometimes ask the priest to bless the first shoots of rice to be planted out.
Many other examples can be cited to show the apprehension felt by the Filipinos lest they should incur the ill will of the spirits. When a family is moving into a new house they place vessels containing rice and salt under it to bring luck. Garlic is laid at the doors and windows, and a cross is set above the door to ward off evil spirits. When someone dies the doors and windows of his house must be closed after the removal of the body, lest death should soon return to the house.