Saturday, December 20, 2008

From whence shrines come

The La Crosse Tribune's coverage of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine church dedication included this interesting bit:
Corinne Dempsey, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said that for a church leader like Burke to initiate the building of a shrine is backwards.

Shrines come from the people, she said, not authorities.

“Pilgrimage sites do not start from the top down, but from the bottom up,” said Dempsey, who has taught a course on popular Catholicism and studied pilgrimages.

Other sites of pilgrimage, like the site where Our Lady of Fatima is said to have appeared in Portugal, grew from a groundswell of popular interest, and the official church later becomes aware of it, Dempsey said.

“Pilgrimage shrines historically have been places that began based on miracles that happen to people, not to popes,” she said. “I don’t know how well central Wisconsin is set up for that kind of thing either. These kinds of pilgrimage sites are not typically a mainstream American phenomenon.”
I beg to differ. Notwithstanding Bob Moynihan's excellent rejoinder that people like Dempsey “represent the pointy-headed intellectuals who have lost contact with the base,” there's a lot more to be considered.

First, there are the opposing statements about 'the people' and those in authority. “Pilgrimage shrines historically have been places that began based on miracles that happen to people, not to popes.” Funny, I thought popes were people, too. And miracles have happened to popes just as much as 'to people.' Consider, for instance, the miracle of the August snow which brought about the building of St. Mary Major. But Dempsey's thinking is typically Marxist -- those in authority aren't real people. In their minds, those who have power will necessarily abuse it, therefore, they aren't 'real' people because 'real' people would never abuse power.

Second, the shrines at Fatima, Lourdes, Tepayac, La Sallette, Knock and so many other places of Marian devotion, actually did begin from the top down. They came because the Mother of God herself requested them. If that isn't authority, I don't know what is.

Third, she's wrong about the relationship between those who have the visions and Church officials. These are private revelations subject to the authority of the local bishop. It is he who must give approval for any devotion at the alleged apparition site and the approval for any church that might be built there, as with any church built within his diocese. Indeed, in the Diocese of La Crosse itself there is a "shrine" in Necedah that has been in the process of building since the 1950's. The reason it's taking so long -- it has never had the approval of the local bishop because they were false apparitions. In fact, one of the reasons Archbishop Burke started the Shrine in La Crosse was to provide an authentic place of pilgrimage within the Diocese.

Fourth, she's wrong about all pilgrimage shrines starting with apparitions. While Marian shrines have started with them, there are plenty of other shrines that didn't. For instance, the second most important pilgrimage site in the world after the Holy Land itself is Santiago Compestela. That was founded by a bishop who had obtained the bones of St. James. There is a Shrine to the Divine Savior in Las Vegas. That was begun by the bishop of Sin City in order to help tourists, travelers and the immigrant population of the area.

Too bad for the readers of the La Crosse Tribune who were subjected to such glib and false analysis. All Dempsey did was to give more ammunition to those who already hold this false 'people/leader' dichotomy.

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