VATICAN CITY, APRIL 9, 2002 ( A new Vatican document on popular piety emphasizes the positive aspects of this form of religious expression but warns against practices that border on superstition.

The "Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines" was prepared by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

At a press conference today, the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, recalled that the Second Vatican Council stressed that popular expressions of piety "be in keeping with the laws and norms of the Church," and that "they be in accord with sacred liturgy and, in a certain sense, stem from it, and lead people to it."

"This document is not an exorcism against purists who wish to do away with popular religiosity, but a positive document that demonstrates its worth and usefulness," the cardinal added.

"Popular religiosity is a fact that accompanies the life of the Church and that has accompanied it over the centuries," he said. He cited the example of outstanding Church figures such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis of Assisi.

"These are expressions, gestures, attitudes that manifest a personal relation with God: The cross is kissed, the Via Crucis is prayed, pilgrimages are undertaken, there is kneeling at the tombs of saints and martyrs, and conservation of remains of their bodies and clothes," Cardinal Medina Estévez explained in the Vatican Press Office.

"To touch the image of the Crucified or of the Virgin of Sorrows means to express the desire to be at one with their pain; to undertake a pilgrimage on foot, enduring exhaustion and expense, is a sign that manifests the interior desire to come close to the mystery made visible by the shrine," the cardinal said.

When "an attitude of liturgical purism tends to eliminate the expressions of popular religiosity, it implies a moral impoverishment for Christian life," he emphasized.

Asked about the need to distinguish between popular religiosity and superstition, the cardinal answered: "The danger of superstition, in a certain sense, is everywhere in the religious phenomenon. It might be that some expression is not totally appropriate, but the solution is not to throw it out, but rather to purify that which is not consistent with faith and revelation."

"We must not see superstition in every gesture of religious expression, because we are men, not angels," he added. "The angels have no need to kiss anything, not even to look at an image. We are men, we have a corporeal dimension in our religious expression."

Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, also spoke at the press conference, pointing out that the directory is "a document of pastoral character."

"It is not about a complete catalogue of the expressions of popular piety of the different countries, but rather offers the principal lines of common application," the archbishop noted.

The directory begins by explaining the principles and language of popular piety. It is divided in two parts.

The first part offers points of reference illustrated by history, the magisterium and theology, which are necessary to harmonize popular piety with the liturgy.

The second part offers relevant points of popular piety: veneration of the Lord´s Mother; devotion to angels, saints and the blessed; prayers for the dead; pilgrimages; and expressions of piety in shrines.