Pope Francis and the Sto. Nino Fiestas

Pope Francis and the Sto. Nino Fiestas

WE celebrate the Feast of the Sto. Niño in the Philippines. There are street dances, drums, soothes in the faces or bodies of the devotees and there was the traditional “Palapak” when the faithful asks the altar ministers to let the image of the Sto. Nino touch their heads or other parts of the body whom they feel need healing from the Son of God.

Obviously, each of all these local fiestas has their own historical and cultures backgrounds. Certainly, many of these popular devotions did not originate from the hierarchy, the priests or bishops but from the lay faithful themselves. And since they don’t come from the official church, so to speak, they are suspect by some members of the ministerial priesthood. These practices for a learned intellectual could even be tagged as pure paganism and does not help in the spiritual grown of the lay faithful. They could be considered as mere superstition or even magic.

Yet the Holy Father would think otherwise. Rather than lament to the negative degradation of the fiesta he presents a positive vision for the hierarchy and the faithful to ponder. In fact they are called popular devotions, popular religiosity and sometimes, popular mysticism. So how does our Pope consider these phenomena which is quite common not only in Latin America, as for example with regards to the Blessed Virgin Mary but also in the Philippines?

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, highlights the evangelizing power of these popular piety (popular religiosity). Through popular piety – or popular spirituality – many Christians express their faith in a way that is incarnated in the culture of the people, particularly, the lowly.

It appears that God, in His wisdom provides an ingenious way to let simple people especially the poor ones to relate to Him according to their own capacity and means. The Pope continued in the same document that: “It is an expression of faith that is not devoid of content. Yet, it expresses its content more symbolically than by discursive reasoning. Underlying popular piety, as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate. […] we are called to promote and strengthen it […] to deepen the never-ending process of inculturation.” “Expressions of popular piety have much to teach us; for those who are capable of reading them, they are a “locus theologicus” [or “sensus fidelium” (theological place or sense of the faithful)] which demands our attention, especially at a time when we are looking to the new evangelization.” (Evangelical Gaudium, 126)

This point of promoting and strengthening popular religiosity or mysticism and not to be underestimated has (a) an evangelizing power and (b) therefore to consider it, deepens the “process of inculturation” which is essential in new evangelization. In fact our Lord, in a sense, has inculturated Himself in a Jewish culture which was also popular; on the other hand, He has some teachings that obviously transcend the Jewish culture though embedded in it, and therefore could be applied to all cultures. Faith comes not only from “below”, though it’s expression but could originate originate from various cultural milieu. This is the mystery of the incarnation which has two dimensions: the divine and the human. Through the teaching of Jesus has divine origin, they could find themselves traces In one way or another inside the Jewish culture and therefore in any cultural traditions.

It seems that Jesus in his divine wisdom has purified elements of the Jewish culture and made its light shine which could be a light to their other cultures as well. Therefore it underwent a certain process, an in-carnational one, but at the same time we could see that it is beyond that particular culture and therefore it is possible to be applied to any culture.

What the Catholics are invited to do is to discern what is True, Beautiful and Good in these popular religiosity since it contains some religious contents. In each of these practices, there are jewels which are perhaps hidden and could be brought out into open in order to be applied to other cultural environment like a catholic cultural environment.

We are invited to find these jewels, that “evangelizing power”, by not underestimating this “mysticism”, as noted, but by allowing ourselves to be evangelized by these persons who are mostly poor. They have much to teach us. To do this the church is invited to see this positive jewels to preserve them and maybe affirm them rather than curse its materialistic and secularistic expression (which in my opinion is irreversible).

For the Pope, although this mysticism “discovers and expresses that content more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning, and in the act of faith greater accent is placed on “credere in Deum” than on “credere Deum” . . . it is “a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries”. It becomes clear that for Pope Francis they too are missionaries to us, [priests and lay] and to be one with our people in their popular expression of faith, “brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage “with our people, and perhaps by doing so we could just ignore its negative manifestations that necessarily goes with it.

In other words, to be recipients of the jewels hidden in popular mysticism or by being evangelized by them, so to speak, we also become evangelizers for them, co-pilgrims with them in discerning in a deeper way together the treasures hidden by God in these cultural expressions of faith. In fact the Pope suggests that: “taking part in (other) manifestations of popular piety, also by taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture”.

He exhorts: “Let us not stifle or presume to control this missionary power!” The church then is invited not to loose by default this “religious power” to the whims and caprices of secularism and materialism. VIVA KAY SENOR STO NIÑO! PIT SENOR!