Popular piety

There are several references to popular piety in the Instrumentum Laboris. I shall refer mostly to number 13 of that document in which we read that in some regions and nations “many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religion are still conserved; but today this moral and spiritual patrimony runs the risk of being dispersed under the impact of a multiplicity of processes, including secularization and the spread of sects. Only a re-evangelization can ensure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom...”. Number 83 of the document also points out that “the Church must not lose her image of being a Church near to people and their families”.

We should remember here what Pope Paul VI wrote in this regard in Evangelii Nuntiandi. The pope spoke of popular piety as a way of evangelisation. He explicitly says “here we touch upon an aspect of evangelization which cannot leave us insensitive” (no. 48). According to Paul VI, “popular religiosity, of course, certainly has its limits. [...] It frequently remains at the level of forms of worship not involving a true acceptance by faith. [...] But if it is well oriented, above all by a pedagogy of evangelization, it is rich in values. It manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion” (no. 48).

Blessed John Paul II gave particular attention to the subject of popular piety. He said that popular piety is simply “faith deeply rooted in a particular culture, immersed in the very fibre of hearts and ideas. Above all, it is generally shared by people at large who are then a people of God”.1 The Holy Father emphasises the “popular” dimension of Christianity at the Cenacle at Pentecost when the Church emerged like an explosion from the small group of the first disciples. The “popular” nature of Christianity is essential, in his opinion, because it expresses the catholicity of the Church. We see from the Acts of the Apostles that the popular dimension has been present in the Church since the beginning, and it is a gift and call on those in roles of leadership and guidance, especially pastors. In this address by John Paul II, he strongly emphasises that “the Catholic Church cannot be reduced to a cenacle, to a spiritual or apostolic elite”.2 That is why, in pastoral ministry, we must “avoid false dilemmas: either the elite or the masses, either quality or quantity of Christians, a Church directed towards the internal or the external”.3 The pope said that the history of Christianity teaches us that exclusive choices always lead to a mutilation of the Church. Blessed John Paul II therefore points to an important rule in pastoral ministry that warns us against the temptation to make exclusivist and unilateral choices that opt for aut aut instead of et et.

It is my opinion that, in the various specific projects for the new evangelisation, we must not forget this important challenge presented by popular piety. It is still very much present in places like Latin America, Africa, a few countries in Europe and even in Asia (Philippines).

1 John Paul II, To Bishops of France on their Ad Limina visit, 23 March 1982.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

© Copyright 2011-2015  Pontifical Council for the Laity | Site Map | Links | Contact us


On 1 September 2016 the

Pontifical Council for the Laity
ceased its activities.
Its responsibilities and duties
have been taken over by the
Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.