CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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The power of popular piety

There are a number of reasons why pilgrimages are popular in Hong Kong. Living in a crowded city and usually in small apartments, many Catholics feel the need to travel with their families and friends in the company of spiritual directors to places where they can pray and deepen their knowledge of the faith. The small but affluent Catholic community in Hong Kong allows them to travel with ease and comfort. A world-class airport and well-established tour companies are added advantages.
 
In fact, pilgrimages have become so popular and widespread that a number of priests involve themselves in leading the various groups as spiritual directors. They have to leave their parishes, each time for one to two weeks, three or four times a year. 
 
In this work, the term popular piety is used synonymously with popular religiosity, popular religion, folk religion, common religion, or popular Catholicism. Popular piety, by no means, suggests Christianity is trendy or fashionable, instead, it is defined as devotional rituals that originate from and are practiced by the common people, as opposed to Curch-sanctioned liturgical worship. In actuality, the Church encourages popular pieties provided they conform to Canon laws and local regulations. 
 
In the years following Vatican II (1962 to 1965), we witnessed a decline in the practice of popular piety such as devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, processions celebrating patronal feasts and novenas. However, there was a revival of popular religion in both developing countries as well as developed ones in the late 20th century. In addition to trips to Jerusalem and Rome, pilgrimages to Marian Shrines, such as Fatima, Lourdes and Medjugorje are extremely popular among Hong Kong Catholics. These are mostly Catholics who have retired with the means and luxury of time to deepen their faith through such journeys. 
 
Why was there a resurgence of popular piety? One leading explanation is that the faithful find the Church liturgy rather dull and monotonous. Church worship has not been able to successfully respond to the emotional and psychological needs of the congregation. 
 
Perhaps, this is the reason many Christians have flocked to Pentecostalism or the charismatic renewal, which emphasises the power of the Holy Spirit as being spontaneous and joyful. People want to feel and experience God working in their lives. 
 
This work explores popular religious beliefs and practices in the context of Latin America mainly, but not exclusively, focusing on the ambivalence found in popular Catholicism as a resource for the people to advance themselves in their fight against injustice, exploitation and oppression.
 
Popular piety has the potential for liberation against unjust social and economic structures. It has also been manipulated by various political and religious groups to serve their agenda. In fact, much of popular religion still reflects the dominant ideology. Representatives of the powerful middle and upper middle classes do not hesitate to manipulate popular piety to protect their power and privileges. 
 
Popular piety, when properly guided, can help to broaden and deepen political consciousness and mobilise people to act. Without a strong level of political consciousness as well as liberative evangelisation, popular religion will be alienating to the poor as well as strengthening the status quo of the rich and exploitative. 
 
However, it will be the elites, the well-educated and committed Christians, who would initiate the transformation of society not the masses. 
 
Power of Popular Piety: A Critical Examination, by Ambrose Mong, published by Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2019, is available on Amazon.com in hardback, paperback and Kindle formats. It is also available in eBook format from Google Books (books.google.com) Goodreads (goodreads.com) and Morning Star Publishing (morningstarpublishing.net.au)