Pope Francis’ experience with popular piety in Latin America has clearly influenced his ministry as Bishop of Rome. Evangelii Gaudium references that landmark document from the Aparecida Conference of 2007. Let’s read and sum it up.
124. The Aparecida Document describes the riches which the Holy Spirit pours forth in popular piety by his gratuitous initiative. On that beloved continent, where many Christians express their faith through popular piety, the bishops also refer to it as “popular spirituality” or “the people’s mysticism”.[Aparecida 262] It is truly “a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly”.[Aparecida 263] Nor is it devoid of content; rather it discovers and expresses that content more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning, and in the act of faith greater accent is placed on credere in Deum than on credere Deum.[Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, S. Th., II-II, q. 2, a. 2] It is “a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries”;[Aparecida 264] it brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage: “Journeying together to shrines and taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, also by taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture”.[Aparecida 264] Let us not stifle or presume to control this missionary power!
- The driving force behind popular piety is not superstition, but the Holy Spirit.
- It is an experience not unlike the human encounter with art–it moves beyond words and reason and appeals to the mystical side of the human being. That mystical aspect is how God made us, so it should not be surprising that our instinct for the spiritual is nature–not just the nurture of those who are deemed special.
- It is clearly a communal experience. Pope Francis is not talking about individuals each going their own way, but of a community on a pilgrimage.
- Pilgrimages are ways of passing on faith, of being missionary disciples. The image of inviting others, of inclusion is strong. I can visualize a helping hand on a shoulder, or a parent carrying a child. Grace is to be found in both the journey and the destination. Discipleship in popular piety is not a stational thing. We do not move from one place to another, and fill the in-between times with mindlessness.
Thoughts on this?