Thursday, January 10, 2008

the pastoral challenge in popular piety

“DYING for folly,’ was how one newspaper editorialized the death of two Black Nazarene devotees during the procession in Quiapo held this week. Referring to the same incident, a columnist of a broadsheet has accused the Church of leading “many people astray by making them believe in idols and sanctioning idolatrous rituals.” More criticisms were heard over national radio and TV.

The media have just made a loud brouhaha over a traditional religious event, or so some people of the rectories may say. But why even fault the reportage or, worse, consign to a mellow whimper the death of two individuals, and the victims lately of some fluvial processions that seemingly have become as constant and accepted as the annual calamities?

From the sociological perspective, these incidents may actually be a barometer of the brand of Catholicism the Filipinos have after over 400 years of Christianity. Today, it looks like it is still down to the level of popular religiosity. Popular piety is, of course, an expression of faith. But “faith” is stretched too much in superstitiously wiping towels on the Nazarene statue in supplication for some material blessings even at the cost of ones life. It may be very difficult to find the values of the Gospel in today’s practice of folk religiosity where loving one another is eclipsed with personal survival—and the practice of popular piety or, better, natural religiosity, does not intend to enter into the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy or the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy issued in 2002 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments warns: “Form of popular religiosity can sometimes appear to be corruption by factors that are inconsistent with Catholic Doctrine. In such cases, they must be patiently and prudently purified through contacts with those responsible and through careful and respectful catechesis—unless radical inconsistencies call for immediate and decisive measures.”

At the backdrop of the Second Plenary Council the Philippines (1991) and the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (2001), the practice of popular piety in the country tilts more to natural religiosity rather than to authentic Christianity.

This indeed is a serious pastoral challenge.

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