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La religiosité populaire

Popular religiosity is one of the main forms of the various expressions of religious feeling in Italy. It remains very prevalent in this country despite many analysts forecasting its demise in the post-modern era. Every year, the faithful masses fill various sanctuaries across Italy, which are regularly frequented by 5 to 6 million pilgrims who flock to San Giovanni Rotondo, Assisi, Padua and Loreto. Public visibility of popular religion currently seems to be on the rise thanks to the attention given to it by the religious establishment (and due to consensus and a very dense distribution across the country) and the fact that defined social groups nowadays tend to express their beliefs. This is a type of piety that is essentially impermeable to change and appears to exist on the fringes of the official Church. It is fuelled by worship and practices that emphasise the role of mediation between man and God, which is ascribed in Catholic tradition to the saints and the Virgin Mary. However, it also expresses a strong need for a perceptible, visible, visionary, and thaumaturgical faith. This contrasts with mainstream Catholicism, which has tempered its religious expression in response to modernity. Empirical studies conducted with Italian respondents reveal numerous traces of this brand of piety typified by those who actively participate in pilgrimages to sanctuaries or places of worship, attend processions organised by parishes for specific religious holidays or make wishes at certain points in their lives (see table). Although these tendencies are in decline, they nevertheless indicate that popular worship is still very widespread in the country, despite criticism in Catholic circles and society as a whole.

Evolution of the practices of popular religiosity

Survey 1994* Survey 2007**
During the previous year you have :
- (actively) taken part in processions 42,3 33,9
- (actively) taken part in a pilgrimage 14,8 15,6
- made a wish 17,8 13,3
- had masses celebrated for your deceased 43,7 34,7

* Vincenzo Cesareo, Roberto Cipriani, Franco Garelli, Clemente Lanzetti, Giancarlo Rovati, La religiosità in Italia, Mondadori, Milano, 1995 (sample of 4 500 individuals).
** Source : Indagine sulla nuova religiosità in Italia, Apsor (Associazione piemontese di sociologia delle religioni), 2007 (sample of 3 160 individuals).

Source : Franco Garelli, Enzo Pace, Annalisa Frisina, “Portrait du Catholicisme en Italie”, in Alfonso Perez-Agote, Portraits du catholicisme, une comparaison européenne (Presses Universitaires Rennes, 2012). Research conducted as part of the work of the GERICR - European Interdisciplinary Research Group on Religious Change.

27 août 2015