Latin America

"Popular devotion is the way in which the Church opens itself to the culture of each region, and Our Lady is the matrix."

Omnes interviews Federico Enrique Lanati, Argentine writer, on the popular devotion to the Virgin, expression of a religiosity where the people of God manifest their faith and culture.

Marcelo Barrionuevo-August 15, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
virgin mary

Photo: Cathopic

On the occasion of the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Omnes offers an interview to Federico Enrique Lanati, writer of "Fiestas Religiosas del Norte Argentino y Luján", about the place and importance of the Virgin Mary in the devotion of Northern Argentina. We know that popular piety is something innate in the identity of all the peoples of the world. They are expressions of a religiosity where the people of God manifest their faith and culture. It is the sensum fidelium of popular faith and there God is manifested.

We share this experience from the land of the Pope and in tune with our identity as believing peoples who manifest their faith through the experience of their people.

What motivated you to work on the topic of Religiosity in Northern Argentina?

I was impressed to participate in the spirituality of the people of the small mountain villages, lost in deep Argentina, who live the faith in a different way, that goes beyond knowing and trying to fulfill the commandments, to pray the known prayers, to participate in the weekly mass. They manifest their feelings towards Jesus Christ Crucified, the Virgin Mary and the patron saints, as something very important in their lives: they ask them in their prayers, they thank them, they accompany them, they are present, and they do it with joy, in a well organized community, offering their music, their dances, their colorfulness, their signs that they proudly manifest, and that they know how to transmit it from grandparents, to parents and children. 

What place does Our Lady occupy in people's piety? How can we distinguish the elements and characteristics of love for Our Lady according to the different devotions?

The figure of the "mamita" is the main one. I would dare to say that maybe she is as important as Jesus Christ for them. They recognize that a mother is always by their side, that whatever you ask of her, she will intercede before God, and he will grant it, because "you can't say no" to a mother.

The hundreds of invocations show that Our Lady is close to every place, in every occasion, accompanying them and bringing them closer to Jesus Christ. 

Is it possible to think of mixed elements of ancestral and Christian cultures as a mixture in the manifestations of faith?

Some call it syncretism, I prefer to follow the beloved Bishop José Demetrio Jiménez (who died a few days after he participated in the 50th anniversary of the Prelature of Cafayate, in honor of the Virgin of the Rosary, on October 7, 2019), who calls it "cultural symbiosis and mestizo imaginary. It is a conjunction, an encounter of both cultures, which continues to be dynamic year after year, and which makes that, as our Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium, "the people evangelizes the people and is inspired by the Holy Spirit".

Pope Francis has put in value, for the whole universal Church, what was insinuated in the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI with more force and especially in Latin America that adopted with force in the meetings of the bishops in Puebla and Aparecida, being a gift that is made in new forms of evangelization and of a Church going out, that recognizes that in all the communities it can relate in a different way with God and that enriches the faith of the Church, feeling it closer to the daily life of the local communities.

What is the importance of religiosity and love for the Virgin in the cultural identity of the North, about what St. John Paul II said, that "a faith that has not become a culture is a faith that is not mature and fulfilled"??

The Virgin is superlative in the cultural identity of the north, of all Argentina and South America (of the 33 celebrations that I participated during 15 years, 19 celebrations are about the Virgin in her different invocations and in the book are reflected the celebrations of the Patroness of Argentina, the Virgin of Lujan, among others). 

What would you ask pastors about how to keep this faith experience alive and what the Church should improve on??

I would suggest that they intensify their presence in each patronal feast of their province and join in those feast days. And those who still do not participate enough, let them see that this style of faith is what brings them closer to the faithful, who do not always participate in the liturgy of the Church in an assiduous way, but in a sporadic way. The inculturation of the Gospel, the popular piety expresses the purest feelings, then it should never be despised, and should lead us to the Eucharist, to the sacraments, for it also the bishops should strengthen the pastoral of Shrines. 

You have been President of the Federation of Chambers of Tourism of the Argentine Republic (FEDECATUR) and you are currently vice-president of the Argentine Commission of Religious Tourism. How do you relate Religious Tourism and the evangelizing dimension? Is the Church working on this?

Religious tourism is considered a facet of cultural tourism. Distinct from the visits to sanctuaries and pilgrimages, in which they participate specifically to make spiritual contact with God, and that according to statistics from 2010 were 300 million people, a figure widely surpassed in subsequent years (although in pandemic has moved to virtual presence). The evangelizing dimension is very important, apart from the visit and knowledge of the heritage and art of the Church around the world, many conversions are seen, it facilitates the use of free time to reflect. This time must be taken advantage of, and we must have guides and specific personnel in each place so that they know how to make this spiritual dimension of the human being be appreciated.

The Church participates in the Argentine Commission of Religious Tourism through its representative of the "Episcopal Commission of Migrants and Itinerant People", or better known as "Pastoral of Religious Tourism", being present in 22 dioceses.

We cannot deny that modern culture is more secularized, do you see hope in Popular Piety?

Popular devotion, popular religiosity, popular spirituality as Pope Francis calls it, is the way in which the Church opens up to the culture of each region. It is no longer conceivable that a single way of living the faith is imparted from Rome, as it was for centuries. Today's openness is and will be more and more a source of approaching the human being to God, the Virgin and the Saints, an unbeatable way to revert secularism and relativism. In fact, South America is the best example. The people, with the help of their pastors, tend to show that man, a religious being in the great majority in the world, needs to be closer and in his own way to our Creator. 

Finally, today we are celebrating a great feast of Our Lady. the Virgin Mary in Argentina, and what was your experience in your travels?

Our Pope Francis said: "If you want to know who Mary is? Ask the theologian, but if you want to know how to love Mary? Ask the people. The people will tell you how to love, how to love the mother."

The Virgin Mary is in the first place the mother of the missionary people, she is always there, each one of us are her children, her brothers and sisters. She is my mother "the only one with whom I can cry". She is the great missionary.

As Father Enrique Bianchi said, the Virgin is in the DNA of the people of South America. God is aware of the emotional charge of a mother, mother on earth and in heaven. She is the matrix of popular piety.

I experienced this in small towns at almost 4000 meters of altitude, with thousands and thousands of pilgrims, going down from the "Virgen de Copacabana de Punta Corral" during Holy Week to Tilcara and Tumbaya, with dozens of sikuris bands accompanying the Virgin with their music; or walking during cold days and nights hundreds of kilometers from Cachi to Salta for the Virgin and the Lord of Milagro, with great sacrifice and joy, or in processions in all the big capital cities honoring their Patroness. As Cardinal and Archbishop Emeritus of Tucumán Luis Héctor Villalba, Cardinal and Archbishop Emeritus of Tucumán Luis Héctor Villalba says in the prologue of the book "Fiestas Religiosas del Norte Argentino y Luján", "our people make massive pilgrimages to the Marian sanctuaries: "Our Lady of the Valley" in Catamarca, "Lord and Virgin of the Miracle in Salta" (where 800 thousand people renew the pact of Fidelity annually), "Our Lady of Mercy" in Tucumán, "Our Lady of Itatí" in Corrientes, "Our Lady of Luján" in Buenos Aires (where Pope Francis went dozens of times), "Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria" and "Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Río Blanco y Paypáya" in Jujuy, "Nuestra Señora del Carmen" and "Nuestra Señora de Huachana" in Santiago del Estero, expressing their deep devotion and love to the Virgin".

The authorMarcelo Barrionuevo

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