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compadrazgo Compadrazgo is best described as a system of fictive kinship, with its origins in the medieval Catholic church in Europe. It can be loosely translated as ‘godparenthood’. Through baptism of a child into the Christian church, compadrazgo sets up a relationship between the child's biological mother and father and (possibly unrelated) persons who become spiritual parents. The latter sponsor the child's acceptance into the Church and, theoretically at least, are responsible for his or her religious education. The biological and spiritual parents refer to each other as ‘co-parents’ and this relationship is normally accompanied by a degree of behavioural and linguistic formality. In the symbolic sense, compadrazgo often signifies that simply being born does not entitle a child to community membership, and that biological parents must be supplemented by social parents in order to give the child a social existence. In this sense baptism can be described as a rite of passage.

Although some Protestant churches use godparents for baptism, and the practice is widespread among Roman Catholics world-wide, it is in the Catholic cultures of the Mediterranean and in Latin America that compadrazgo can be said to be an institution with economic and political significance.

Co-parents with political and economic resources are sought by the biological parents of a child in order to ensure political protection and economic support for the whole family, or perhaps financial support for the child, for example in the form of help with school fees. Persons of political and economic standing in the community often have a large number of godchildren, which not only demonstrates their high status, but also entails that they can count on the labour services and political support of numerous co-parents. The unequal reciprocal system thus established is the basis of many of the widespread patron and client relationship systems in these areas, although it should be emphasized that patron-client relationships are not limited to compadrazgo. The strength of compadrazgo (as an alternative to kinship or the state) as an organizing principle can be seen in the role it plays in the Mafia.

In Latin America, godparenthood is not always limited to baptism, but may be a term used to attract a patron for a variety of supports. Thus, a wealthy acquaintance may be asked to be the godparent of a marriage by paying for the celebrations, or a benefactor of a public building may also be named its godparent. The term may be used to denote the employer of a young maid, particularly if the terms of employment utilize benefits such as the employer paying for the girl's schooling. It is also loosely applied to a number of benevolent though unequal power relationships in which the client feels able to ask for favours.

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