I came in a little late (as usual) and sat next to a woman - about her mid-fifties - who was obviously a Roman. She appeared to be engrossed in prayer and gave all the responses in Latin without hesitation.
Immediately after the gospel, she turned to me and whispered, "Are these Benedictine monks?"
Me: ... < blink >... < blink > ...
Ah, you mean those guys up front in the long black robes, with the shaved heads and the big beards...? The ones doing flawless Gregorian Chant ... as if they do it every day? ... In the Basilica of San Benedetto ... that has statues and paintings of San Benedetto everywhere? In the church that was built over top of the birthplace of San Benedetto... like it says on all the signs around town...
Ah, yeah, those are Benedictine monks.
What the... ?
The other day, I met a lovely young nun who is forming a new community in the US, to pray for and support priests and teach the faith to younger people. She was making a little pilgrimage around some of Italy's holy sites and stopped in town for a day or so. We had a lovely chat and I showed her around some of the neat stuff we have. We went in to look at St. Lawrence parish, a tiny little 4th century church around the corner from the main piazza. It's still a church but the Sacrament has been removed and it is no longer used for Masses, and is falling slowly into decrepitude. That day it was full of a grand piano and a few rows of chairs, since it was being used as part of the Norcia music festival. The person in charge of this saw us come and and asked if either of us played. Sister said she did, and she was kindly invited to sit down. She played and sang quite a lovely song she had written about the graces of the priesthood, as was appropriate. She sang in English.
At the end of it, as we were being ushered to the door, the nice gentleman asked sister, "Are you Catholic?" This was a nun dressed in a full habit, floor length white tunic, blue cincture, white linen guimpe and very long blue veil. She didn't just look like a nun, she looked like every painting you've ever seen of Our Lady of Lourdes. She stammered, "Yes, yes, I'm Catholic. I'm a nun." Having had his question answered, our new friend nodded with satisfaction at having guessed correctly the meaning of her peculiar attire.
As we were proceeding back to the piazza, she turned to me with a look of complete incredulity.
I said, "Yes, the Italians remember that there used to be this thing called 'Catholicism,' but they can recall very little about the details."
We are coming to the point in Italy where it will shortly no longer be accurate to refer to them even as "cultural Catholics".
Apparently, this is true in Germany too:
Emergency Call: The following call to 110 (the German version of 911/999) was made in Aachen, Germany:
Police: "Police Hotline."
Caller: "Hello, my name is [...] I'd like to report a large group of people who are walking down the street with a bullhorn. One of them recited some biblical saying, and the people were repeating the same saying. It's pretty creepy."
Police: "Which saying?"
Caller: "Something biblical, like ... that they are leaving this world ... something about a shepherd and stuff."
Police: "How many people are there?"
Caller: "Unfortunately, I couldn't tell. My husband was watching them ... wait a second ..."
Caller's Husband (shouting in the background): "20 people!"
Caller: "He says 20 people."
Police: "They are just walking through the area?"
Caller: "At the moment they haven't done anything, but it seems strange. Just in case something were to happen."
Police: "What, exactly, were they saying?
Caller's Husband (background): "... 'holy Mary, Mother of God' ..."
Caller: "You know, that saying ... 'and the fruit of thy womb' ... that saying people are always repeating ... I'm not a church person."
Police: "That's probably a procession which is passing through the area."
Caller: "A what?"
Police: "A procession. It's nothing to be afraid of."
Caller: "That they are wandering around here saying these things?"
Police: "Yes, it's a solemn church parade. That's called a 'procession' around here."
Caller: "Oh, I see. I'm not familiar with that. I just thought, because they were saying these things..."
Police: "Right. It's a procession."