Popular piety

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014


SOME practices done by Catholics in the Philippines are not necessarily approved by the hierarchy (bishops).

This does not mean, though, that Church authorities encourage them. It is just that there are two sides of religion, as some sociologists note: one is prescribed (the official), the other is popular (as it is lived).

So when bad things happened during the traslacion of the Nazareno in Quiapo, “popular piety” and not official “Catholic theology” could explain it.

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The phenomenon can be further understood by reflecting on the gap between the ordinary people and their Church leaders.

Many lay persons think of religion as a practical matter. On the other hand, many, if not most (or all?), of the clergy theologize religion.

No less than the devotion to the Sto. Niño is an example of this dichotomy. Priests and lay people who studied theology know very well that the Sto. Niño is Jesus himself.

But many of devotees, young and old alike, think that the Holy Child is another person, another saint. One student of mine even said that the Sto. Niño is the brother of Jesus.

When popular piety is repeated, it forms part of culture. It creates a life of its own.

Here, we should be warned of the possible excesses it may also create, just like what happens in Quiapo every year. We must also be warned of the “spiritual arrogance” it may breed.

The extent of a particular society’s popular piety reveals the gap between the devotees and the promoters of the devotion.

People may look fanatic but only because they do not see any other way to “live their religion.”

They were perhaps told by their parish priests to temper their religiosity.

Unfortunately, they have not found an alternative from their leaders that would show life’s meaning.

There is no way that we condone the violence and tragedy that may be caused by the excesses in our religious practices.

But if we are to address them, first we have to understand that these practices come from a context, one of which is the very fact that people seem to consider their religious authorities as “for official use only.”

No entry for them in the private realm of “individual religiosity.” Our bishops and priests should seriously reflect on this sad reality.

Bishops and priests, therefore, should go beyond the usual homilies and pastoral letters if they want to purge popular piety of its abuses.

They have to start creating alternatives to these devotions – one that may not necessarily be in contrast and in contradiction with the people’s way of life. --Roderick John Abellanosa, SHS Ateneo de Cebu

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 15, 2014.

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