Traditional piety returns to France

For Pope Francis, popular piety is "the Church's immune system". The faithful, who nurtured this treasure in their homes when clerics neglected it, are now rediscovering a taste for processions, mixed with more intimate devotional practices.

"Through this prayer, we ask you for this grace: Lord, bring this precious water down to earth. Bless also all those who work to make the earth bear fruit".

The prayer pronounced on 7 May by the Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, Mgr Dominique Rey, was not only echoed in heaven: after the procession organised by the Parish of Draguignan, in the Var region, rain fell on a land that has been cruelly short of water for several months. His plea was also widely reported by the media, who were surprised by the popular success of the initiative, which ended with a blessing of the tractors: several hundred people had gathered that day behind the statues of Saint Hermentaire, Saint Roseline, Our Lady of Bargemon, Our Lady of the People and Saint Roch.

Saint Hermentaire
Saint Roseline
Notre Dame de Bergamon
Our Lady of the People pray for the people!

There have also been other successful processions recently to ask for rain, near Perpignan. These events are part of a tradition that the Church practised for centuries, before it fell into disuse in the 1960s: the rogations - from the Latin rogare, "to pray". Their origins go back to Saint Mamert. In the 5th century, the Bishop of Vienne decreed three days of prayers and processions through the countryside before Ascension Day, with priests and faithful asking God to bless the work in the fields and protect them from natural disasters. Pope Leo III made Rogation obligatory throughout the Church in the 9th century.

"Faithful to the traditions of our ancestors"

One might be tempted to explain this revival by strictly material reasons: after all, there's nothing more legitimate than wishing for rain to irrigate crops! But that would be to overlook the spiritual concerns of the participants, as one woman from Dracén told Var-Matin on 8 May: "Even if our prayers don't work, it's not a big deal. The most important thing is communion around shared values" - in other words, the joy of praying together to God, the Virgin Mary and the saints, while affirming that they are "faithful to the traditions of our ancestors", as the poster proudly proclaimed on the invitation to the Rogations in Draguignan.

This expression of popular piety never fails to amaze those who thought it was out of fashion. Yet many other events bear witness to its vitality, and even its revival. Some are firmly rooted, such as the Pardons in Brittany or the ostensions of relics in Limousin. Other events are recent creations, such as the "M de Marie": the statue of Notre-Dame de France, on pilgrimage from Lourdes to La Salette, has drawn crowds of worshippers. Based on the same model, a "Eucharistic procession in a horse-drawn carriage" will take place on the roads of the Var region from 4 to 9 July.