By Justin McLellan
VATICAN CITY — Lay groups that promote popular piety, often with elements of local folklore, can be great evangelizers, but members must continue to grow in their faith and in their attachment to the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told members of Italian confraternities.
Meeting with representatives of the Confederation of Confraternities of the Dioceses of Italy Jan. 16, the pope said that the organization of 2 million members is representative of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that the laity must contribute to the “sanctification of the world.”
Founded in 2000 during the church’s jubilee year, the confederation oversees lay groups approved by the church that promote charitable works and devotional forms throughout Italy. Many Catholic confraternities have been in existence since the Middle Ages.
Pope Francis told the representatives that popular piety — expressions of faith blended with specific cultural elements — “is a powerful force of announcing (the Gospel) that has much to offer men and women of our age.” However, he asked them not to be afraid to “update” their old traditions “in communion with the path of the church.”
He also referenced what he called “the best text” on popular piety: “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” St. Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world. Written after the 1974 Synod of Bishops on evangelization, it elaborated on the role of all Christians, and not only members of the clergy, in sharing the Gospel.
The pope praised the contribution of confraternities to the church as a “centuries-old experience of synodality,” through their “fraternal dialogue characterized by a climate of prayer and sincere charity” to organize and manage themselves.
In their charitable work, Pope Francis asked them to address new forms of poverty, particularly those brought to light during the pandemic, and “to respond to the needs of our time with creativity and courage.”