La Difunta Correa

23 10 2008

Another story, reported in the Golden Legend, relates how [Mary Magdalene] made a pilgrimage to Rome, and after a shipwreck on a desert island saved a child by enabling it to suckle the corpse of its mother for two years.

-Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary

The story of modern Christianity is the story of how one man’s piety can become another’s superstition. For the Church could at one point approve the publication of a miracle in one instance in the Middle Ages, while when a similar miracle happens in more recent times, it is condemned as an impious work of the Devil. A little background is necessary here.

I’ll let Wikipedia do my homework for me in this case:

According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The men buried the body in present-day Vallecito, and took the baby with them.

Here are some fascinating Youtube videos about her cult and shrine, mostly in Spanish, but some in English:

And, please, give that woman something to drink:

I find it disturbing that many “educated” Catholics in Argentina frown on these cults, calling them “pagan superstitions”. All they are doing is making a united front with modern rationalism and shooting themselves in the foot. (The traditionalists down there are the worst offenders.) The Church should put itself in the position to learn from popular religion, not pretend to “evangelize” it or “reform” it. At this point, the hierarchy of the Church has made it abundantly clear that in some things, it has no idea in which direction to steer the Church. Maybe the “ecclesia docens” should sit down and take a few lessons from the relatively few places left in the Church where the traditional language of devotion has not been warped by the meanderings and experiments of professional theologians.

Oh bendita y milagrosa Difunta Correa! Protectora de los desamparados que sufren y lloran, ruegote te dignes a escuchar mis oraciones y súplicas, y que por intermedio de nuestro Señor Jesucristo me concedas la gracia que hoy te solicito en mi oración muy humildemente.


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13 responses

3 08 2010
Promesantes « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] interview of the director of a documentary on the shrine to la Difunta Correa in […]

28 10 2008
AG

I thought this notion of “needing to correct” the devotions of the people was interesting.

Three points:
1. My parents pray to their own deceased parent(s). And not just for respite from purgatory, but actually to them, asking for favors. When my father is fixing something, he prays to his own father to ask him to help figure it out. When there’s bad weather my mother prays to her own mother that nothing will be harmed, remembering her mother’s dislike of bad weather. On the face of it, these prayers aren’t “theologically correct.” While my grandparents in life were devout Catholics and I pray they are saints, I’m absolutely positive they’re not Saints. And yet both of my parents can point to times when they are sure their own parents intervened to protect or help them.

2. I have an uncle who has had cancer for the past several years. He began to use St. Joseph’s oil (of Blessed Brother Andre in Quebec fame; http://catholicism.org/br-andre.html) and since then, his cancer has not spread even though he has had to end chemotherapy. He began to panic recently because he was running out of it. Now if I wanted to be a stickler, I could point out to him that it’s not really just the oil – he could just pray to St. Joseph alone. But I know he wouldn’t buy that “theological correctness” anyway.

3. Over a year ago I assisted at a traditional Mass in Kansas City where the priest, before beginning his homily, recommended to the congregation to put a statue of St. Joseph on the corner of their property if they were having difficulty selling their homes. “Don’t bury it! That would be wrong. But do put it out there.” Hearing a priest teaching traditional folk Catholicism to the people made me ill.

So I guess I would say that there’s always a life beyond what is strictly theologically correct that should remain untouched. You don’t have to nourish it – I think it comes naturally because we’re human. Indeed, I think the hesitancy of most modern Catholics to follow these practices is not that human nature has changed, but that we’ve had it pounded in our heads to NOT do those things and NOT view the world in certain ways; rather, to develop the “more mature faith” with the theological i’s dotted and t’s crossed. At the same time, I can’t describe how uncomfortable it makes me when a cleric tries to teach “the old ways” to the people. Ugh.

26 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I think white Anglos have a problem praying to the dead.

Careful with “theological correctness”. Sometimes it causes more problems than it solves.

26 10 2008
Ben George

“I really don’t see why you have to bring it up at all.”

I don’t bring it up. Children do. Sort of like how they bring up Santa Claus. Sort of how older ones bring up Money.

“Why not just add to the devotion of the people, and teach what you have to instaed of attacking what they believe.”

Because if the devotion of the people is false it needs to be corrected, no matter who those people are (myself included.)

“In one story of Malverde, he gives himself up so that his friend could collect the bounty on his head. ”

Thank you, that is helpful.

“Maybe because for the former it is merely a hobby not to be taken seriously, and for the latter it is serious business?”

Yes.

25 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I really don’t see why you have to bring it up at all. If you don’t like Malverde, that really is your business. Why does it have to be an either/or issue? My grandmother venerated Juan Soldado. Why not just add to the devotion of the people, and teach what you have to instaed of attacking what they believe. If you find something “unedifying”, ignore it. I really don’t see what the big deal is here, other than the paranoia that an unenchanted cosmos is a more Christian one. Why is it that more correct Anglo “Catholics” can read about the elves of Tolkien and exalt in Chesterton’s cult of Catholicism as a fine cigar when people who have been Catholic for millenia are accused of being superstitious for venerating a miraculous bandit who may just be an “anima sola” who works miracles? Maybe because for the former it is merely a hobby not to be taken seriously, and for the latter it is serious business?

Again, your words are loaded: “Christian witness” is a phrase that is thrown around that has little positive content. In one story of Malverde, he gives himself up so that his friend could collect the bounty on his head. Maybe you can preach on sacrifice from that. Or maybe you shouldn’t bring it up at all. Stop posing it as an either/or dilemma. Start thinking of it as both/and.

Thanks for the link.

25 10 2008
Ben George

I have been digging around on Malverde on your blog and online, I still can’t find anything about his cultus that indicates any particular Christian witness.

“Malverde is Church on the ground level, and in many ways, it is much more authentic.”

Your blog is the only one I can find that goes into depth on these issues. There’s nothing else as informative, or that goes into any real analysis. Mostly just sensationalistic news snippets. I did find this. I really would like to see how Malverde is Church in any way at all. This is more than a hobby for me: I teach CCE in an area where the people have devociones to Malverde and such. I don’t want to preach against something that is of the faith, even if it’s not the way I would express it. How is Malverde of the faith of Christ, a Christian saint?

25 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

On Malverde, I would do your homework. I have written about him on this blog, so you are more than welcome to draw your own conclusions.

There is a noxious tendency amongst Catholics to think of the Church primarily in “universal” political terms. They think of technicolor films of Popes, EWTN, and other artificial constructs. Malverde is Church on the ground level, and in many ways, it is much more authentic. Even if it is imperfect, it is still genuine devotion. Not a hobby.

25 10 2008
Ben George

“See, it goes both ways.”

Not quite.

I take your point about bad modern buildings in the US/Europe, and I agree. My intention is not to pick on Latin American devotions, and I think we both agree that the organic faith of the people is to be encouraged and shouldn’t be destroyed by ecclesiocrat false-aggiornamento. I also agree that some so-called “universal” truths that are in-fact simply recent European theologians’ enthusiasms.

But that’s exactly my point: those enthusiasms are local, not universal, and thus need to be corrected. And my point stands: It is not elitist to point out where local enthusiasm clashes with universal truth, whether that local enthusiasm is creeping in from Saddleback or Sinaloa.

I don’t desire to malign Jesus Malverde, I mean to call into question his cultus, which does not, so far as I can see, have anything to do with devotion to Christ. In what way is he worthy of veneration, locally or universally? If I am wrong, tell me how, I would honestly like to know.

25 10 2008
FrGregACCA

“Missing from this is probably the largest group, the lapsed Catholics.”

And this group is far from being homogenous, either.

24 10 2008
Leah

Well, I wasn’t actually referring to the various tiers as a strict clergy/laity dichotomy. The best way to illustrate my point is to use the Catholic blogosphere. Participation in the Catholic blogosphere makes several assumptions about the individual, namely that you are informed about various aspects of the post-Vatican II church, you are familiar with various members of the hierarchy, you are liturgically literate, you know a decent amount about Church history, etc. If one were the judge the Catholic Church by the Catholic blogosphere, I wouldn’t be surprise if one came away thinking that it was full of white paleo/neo-conservatives who like to quibble about liturgical matters and complain about American politics. For many people, the Internet is a replacement for the kind of parish life they can’t have in real life.

Of course, most Catholics in the world don’t have regular Internet access, and many who do have better things to do with their time than argue about whether married deacons should be serve as deacons during High Mass. To me, this represents a major shift. During the Middle Ages, the literate clergy, monks, and nuns occupied one tier of understand, namely of people who interacted with the Church through a written culture. The people engaged in the popular folk religion understood the Church though oral culture. Today, everyone is supposed to be part of the written culture of the Church and the oral part has been almost totally neglected. So far as I can tell, there’s no real Catholic culture to speak of in the US, so we’ve become depended on the written aspect to sustain us. So far, I think I’ve mentioned four tiers to the contemporary Church: the hierarchy, the educated layman who hangs out on the Internet, orthodox Catholics who don’t blog, and folk Catholics and also don’t blog. Missing from this is probably the largest group, the lapsed Catholics. All of these groups reach their understand of Catholicism through different means and almost seem to exist in different realities because of it.

24 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

There has always been the tension between that which is accepted on a local level by lay and clergy, and that which is universal. It has always been the case that what is imposed as “universal” will sometimes clash with local and organic truth. I don’t think that it’s elitist to point out how some “universal” theologies are sometimes distortions of catholic truth.

In this case, I don’t think that it necessarily is, but I have seen really horrid distortions of the Gospel in modern contexts, particularly building ugly modern churches and destroying traditional devotions in the name of “theological correctness”…

See, it goes both ways.

More on Santa Muerte later. On “narcosantos”, the only one I can think of is Jesus Malverde, and he can’t help it is drug dealers pray to him. Other people go to him for other reasons such as to find work, healing, etc. I have a holy card to Malverde, and the only reason I don’t venerate him more is because no one in my family is from Sinaloa, so he is not a “santo de mi devocion”. Guilt by association won’t work here.

23 10 2008
Ben George

I don’t think it’s helpful to think of it in terms of several tiers.

There has always been the tension between that which is accepted on a local level by lay and clergy, and that which is universal. It has always been the case that local practice will sometimes clash with universal truth. I don’t think that it’s elitist to point out how some local piety is sometimes a distortion of catholic truth.

In this case, I don’t think that it necessarily is, but I have seen really horrid distortions of the Gospel in Latin American contexts, particularly Santa Muerte and the Narco-Saints.

23 10 2008
Leah

There seem to be several tiers to Catholicism. One tier consists of educated conservatives who believe in Catholicism more less because it seems to support “traditional values” (whatever that may mean in their national context) that they would probably support whether they were religious or not. Another tier consists of the folk religious practices mentioned on this blog. There are probably a host of other groups out there that I can’t think of. I think these various tiers always existed in the Church, but the differences between them are more obvious now, especially since it seems like everyone is expected to be an expert in moral and liturgical matters.

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