By Angela Wills
Pope Francis is instructing the Catholic Church to motivate and appreciate popular religiosity, which sees millions upon millions of pilgrims coming to shrines to place themselves, and those they love, in the care of Virgin Mary and the saints.
According to Francis, such time-honored grassroots devotion, is a genuine form of spreading the faith.
He says, “In the shrines, in fact, our people live a deep spirituality, that of the piety that through centuries has reflected the faith with simple, but very meaningful, devotions.
The pope expressed his thoughts as he met with thousands of men and women who were involved in pilgrimage work at Catholic shrines who came together in Rome Tuesday through Thursday for a celebration in collaboration with the pope’s Year of Mercy.
This would hail as the first celebration for a specific group during the jubilee, with many more to come before the special year climaxes on November 20th. To clarify the term, “shrine”, the definition of the word as it appears under Church law is, “a church or other sacred place that has the approval of the local bishop and is visited by the faithful as pilgrims.”
Shrines are always dedicated to a specific devotion. It can be the burial location of a saint, like the one of St. Olav’s Shrine in Norway. There were others constructed at the sites of Marian apparitions, like Lourdes in France or Garabandal in northern Spain. More often, a shrine is developed as a center for a specific devotion.
For a very long time now, Pope Francis has appreciated the expressions of popular piety that have attracted millions to shrines as a display of their faith, seeing them not at all as quaint, but instead a footprint for both pastoral activity and theology.
His words on Thursday to the thousands of people assembled in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall from place as far as Germany, Poland, Peru, Mexico, England, Portugal, Ireland and the United States were that pilgrimage to shrines is “the most eloquent expression of the faith of God’s people.”
He issued a warning to those who worked at shrines to not belittle those who go on pilgrimages, and to never assume that they are simply going through the motions. The pope said, “Each pilgrim brings a special wish in their hearts, a prayer.”
Pope Francis has made a sincere effort to visit a shrine on each journey he embarks upon to other places. He certainly has a soft spot for shrines, specifically those that are dedicated to the Virgin Mary.