Benedict XVI’s Address to Latin America Commission

“Faith Must Be the Main Source of Popular Piety”

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience a group of participants from the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

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Esteemed Cardinals,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I greet affectionately the advisers and members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who have gathered in Rome for their plenary assembly. I greet in a special way Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the aforementioned pontifical commission, thanking him heartily for the words he addressed to me on behalf of all to present to me the results of these days of study and reflection.

2. The theme chosen for this meeting, “Impact of Popular Piety on the Process of Evangelization in Latin America,” addresses directly one of the most important aspects of the missionary task in which the particular churches of that great Latin American continent are committed. The bishops who met in Aparecida for the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean episcopate, which I had the pleasure of opening on my trip to Brazil in May 2007, present popular piety as a way of encounter with Jesus Christ and a way of expressing the faith of the Church. Hence, it cannot be considered as something secondary in Christian life, as that “would be to forget the primacy of the action of the Spirit and the gratuitous initiative of the love of God” (Final Document, No. 263).

This simple expression of faith has its roots in the very beginning of the evangelization of those lands. In fact, to the degree that the saving message of Christ was illumined and animated by their cultures, the rich and profound popular religiosity was gradually woven that characterizes the living of the faith of the Latin American peoples, which, as I said in the opening address of the Conference of Aparecida, constitutes “the precious treasure of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and that she must protect, promote and, in so far as necessary, also purify” (No. 1).

3. To carry out the new evangelization in Latin America, in a process that permeates the whole being and work of the Christian, the many demonstrations of popular piety cannot be put to one side. All of them, well channeled and duly supported, propitiate a fruitful encounter with God, an intense veneration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a profound devotion to the Virgin Mary, a cultivation of affection for the Successor of Peter and an awareness of belonging to the Church. May all this serve also to evangelize, to communicate the faith, to bring the faithful to the sacraments, to strengthen the bonds of friendship and family and community union, as well as to increase solidarity and the exercise of charity.

Consequently, faith must be the main source of popular piety so that it will not be reduced to a simple cultural expression of a specific region. More than that, it must be in close relationship with the sacred liturgy, which cannot be substituted by any other religious expression. In this respect, it cannot be forgotten, as the “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy” affirmed, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, that “liturgy and popular piety are two expressions of worship which must be in mutual and fruitful relationship: in any case, the Liturgy must constitute the point of reference to ‘channel with lucidity and prudence the longings of prayer and of charismatic life’ that appear in popular piety; for its part popular piety, with its symbolic and expressive values, can contribute some references to the liturgy for a true inculturation, and stimuli for an effective creative dynamism” (No. 58).

4. Found in popular piety are many expressions of faith connected to the great celebrations of the liturgical year, in which the simple peoples of Latin America reaffirm the love they feel for Jesus Christ, in whom they find the manifestation of God’s closeness, of his compassion and mercy. Innumerable are the shrines that are dedicated to the contemplation of the mysteries of the childhood, passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, and to them multitudes of persons go to place in his divine hands their sorrows and joys, praying at the same time for copious graces and imploring forgiveness of their sins. Profoundly united to Jesus is also the devotion of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean to the Most Holy Virgin Mary. She, from the dawn of evangelization, accompanies the children of that continent and is for them inexhaustible source of hope. That is why, they take recourse to her as Mother of the Savior, to feel constantly her loving protection under different names. In the same way, the saints are held as luminous stars that surround the heart of numerous faithful of those countries, edifying them with their example and protecting them with their intercession.

5. It cannot be denied, however, that certain deviated forms exist of popular religiosity that, far from fomenting an active participation in the Church, create instead confusion and can foster a merely exterior religious practice detached from a well-rooted and interior living faith. In this respect, I would like to recall here what I wrote to seminarians last year: “Popular piety can incline toward the irrational and perhaps also remain on the outside. However, to exclude it is completely erroneous. Through it, faith has entered into men’s heart, forming part of their sentiments, customs, feeling and common living. That is why, popular piety is a great patrimony of the Church. Faith has become flesh and blood. Popular piety must certainly always be purified and point to the center, but it merits all our appreciation and makes us integrate ourselves fully in the ‘People of God'” (Letter to Seminarians, Oct. 18, 2010, No. 4).

6. During the meetings I have had in these last years, on the occasion of their “ad limina” visits, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean have always referred to me what they are doing in their respective ecclesiastical circumscriptions to initiate and encourage the Continental Mission, with which the Latin American episcopate has wished to re-launch the process of new evangelization after Aparecida, inviting all the members of the Church to put themselves in a permanent state of mission. It is an option of great transcendence, as the desire is to return to a fundamental aspect of the work of the Church, namely, to give primacy to the Word of God so that it will be the permanent nourishment of Christian life and the pivot of all pastoral action.

This encounter with the divine Word must lead to a profound change of life, to a radical identification with the Lord and his Gospel, to become fully aware that it is necessary to be solidly cemented in Christ, acknowledging that “one does not begin to be Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but because of the encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives a new horizon to life and, with it, a decisive orientation” (“Deus Caritas Est,” No. 1).

In this connection, I am pleased to know that in Latin America the practice of “lectio divina” has been growing in the parishes and in small ecclesial communities, as an ordinary way to nourish prayer and, in that way, give solidity to the spiritual life of the faithful, given that “in the words of the Bible, popular piety will find an inexhaustible source of inspiration, unsurpassable models of prayer and fruitful proposals of different topics” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, No. 87).

7. Dear brothers, I thank you for your valuable contributions geared to protect, promote and purify all that is related to the expressions of popular religiosity in Latin America. Of great value to achieve this objective, will be to continue stimulating the Continental Mission, in which particular space must be given to all that refers to this pastoral realm, which constitutes a privileged way for the faith to be received in the heart of the people, touch the most profound sentiments of persons and manifest itself vigorous and operative through charity (cf. G a 5, 6).

8. On concluding this joyful meeting, while I invoke the sweet name of Mary Most Holy, perfect disciple and pedagogue of evangelization, I impart to you from my heart the apostolic blessing, pledge of the divine benevolence.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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