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Popular piety, part of our tradition

(Article written by Gian Domenico Daddabbo) Knowledge of Christ is not result of human intelligence; if it were, faith would corrispond to a cold intellectualistic elaboration: the Judaic concept of knowledge, absorbed by Christianism, means to experience, therefore the answer of heart succeeds to the one of mind and opens the believer to the Mystery of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, establishing a deep relationship between the creature and the Creator. In this heart-to-heart relationship, defined by the word “devotion” (from latin devotio, which means “attachment”), believers become more aware of their need of the Heavenly Father who looks after us, especially in hardship (Cfr 1 Peter 5:6-8).

The Bible points heart as the central plank all of the aspects of human person (emotional, bodily and spiritual) merge together, so Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) and warns that bad purposes spoiling the soul spring from the heart (Mark 7:21-23). Center and peak of devout life is the Holy Mass, where the Christian folk participates in the Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist, so in the Liturgical Assembly the promise of Christ to the early Apostles is repeated: “And here, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

The redeeming experience of Jesus’s presence has inspired Christians to nurture popular piety, a galaxy of devotions which embody faith expressing its vitality and, in virtue of the mystic aspect, help the praying person develop the eyes of heart, able to probe into the invisible. In this perspective, popular piety has a threefold function: evangelical, ecclesial and missionary. This has been embodied especially by brotherhoods, that Pope Francis has defined “sources of holiness”. Starting from the Middle Ages, brotherhoods have hepled a large number of generations of simple people in the path of faith up to nowadays, particularly in processions, which garther an entire folk around relics or sacred images. Lately the brotherhoods participate in other events, like marches for life.

Every year on the 19th of March, Ladispoli celebrates its Patron Saint Joseph with a great procession and in the few last years the procession to the Christ Dead has become a very important appointment for Sacred Heart parish of the city, like the Eucharistic procession on Corpus Domini Solemnity. The Christ Dead and Eucharistic Jesus on the streets take us back in time to Palestine on the days of Jesus’s earthly life, just like the Way of the Cross and the Holy Rosary. The Way of the Cross is rooted in the ancient path of early Christian pilgrims along the sorrowful way in Jerusalem and the Rosary, where we contemplate the Mysteries of Jesus’s life, is a gift from Mary especially for our time.

When going to the Holy Land became more and more difficult because of invasion by Mohammeddans who destroyed, plundered and killed Christians, the faithful enhanced more and more the devotions of the Way of the Cross, the Holy Rosary and processions, descovering the possibility to make their relationship with God deeper in a spiritual pilgrimage, like in the physical one and even now we keep on treasuring them, but this hasn’t restrained pilgrims from moving. Pilgrimage, other trait of popular piety, has typically Biblical roots; it’s a way of conversion and reflection on existance at the light of God’s Word, but it’s also a moment of feast, a chance to get out of  the daily round to make an experience of communion. Word Youth Days are a typical example of this union of feast and penance where prayer strenghtens in us young people the desire to witness Christ’s joy together with guys of our age from everywhere in the World for a  more solid and generous faith (Cfr Lumen Fidei n 53).

Around the Cross and Marian Icon, signs of these great gartherings, processions of many young people take place, like the Way of the Cross with the Pope, moment of reflection on suffering situations in the World. Besides in moments of prayer, popular piety has influenced the WYD even in the choice of places because of their meaning, in the one of the Saint Patrons and the actraction too plays a significant role, indeed the large answer of young people to the invitation of the Pope always surprises. The collapse of most certainties, consequence of secularization, awakens in many young people the hunger of Truth driving them to find it out in Christ Himself, in Him they find a friend to trust in, so the massive participation of young people in the life of the Church is a prophetic sign of a great return of humanity to Christ: it’s over the era of great illusions and of the conceitedness to leave God out of the horizon of the Man. This message exhorts us to feel proud with our history and the glorious tradition we belong to and draw the instruments and strenght from Liturgy and popular piety to defend our Christian identity against modernism, that “new world” without God which has neither future, nor Eternal Life.

Simone Venturini


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