Folk Religion Seen as Tool for New Evangelization

Commission Calls for Promoting, Purifying It

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2011 ( Popular piety or folk religion — if purified from its deviations from the faith — can be an important tool for evangelization in Latin America, according to a pontifical commission that is meeting in the Vatican.

The Pontifical Commission for Latin America began its plenary session Tuesday. Benedict XVI will address the group Friday.

Vatican Radio reported that the commission is reflecting on the importance of popular piety in Latin America, “evaluating what it has meant during these last five centuries.”

Commission members have outlined a goal to use the Continental Mission called for in Aparecida to “protect, promote and purify” these cultural elements of religious practice “as valid and efficient instruments of personal and communitarian encounter with the Lord.”

It is hoped that in this way, “Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life, will be recognized, accepted, loved and lived in the personal history of all baptized people, and lead to a fuller sacramental life,” Vatican Radio reported.

Popular piety plays a large part in the culture of Latin America, where, for example, well-known actors or musicians might seek to have their children baptized even though they show little interest in other aspects of the faith. Popular piety might be seen in widespread participation in the Way of the Cross during Lent or other devotions. Still other manifestations of this piety can be entirely separate from the faith, such as, for example, the fad in Mexico to practice a “devotion” to Santa Muerte (Holy Death).

The commission members noted the need to recognize the role of popular piety in the evangelization of the continent, but also “to identify the deviations that have arisen and that must be corrected.”

The commission plans to create concrete pastoral recommendations for Latin American bishops, “so that popular piety — considered by Benedict XVI as a rich treasure of Latin America — will be valued and encouraged as a valid and inescapable instrument in the process of the new evangelization.”

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