Is it OK to leave gifts at the statues of saints?

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gifts statues of saints
Flowers are seen at the feet of a statue of Mary outside St. Anthony's Church in North Beach, Md., July 29, 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Question: The courtyard of our parish is lined with numerous beautiful life-size bronze statues of Christ, the Holy Mother, past popes and numerous saints. Every week I notice various anonymous “offerings” such as rosaries, flowers, etc., in the statues’ hands. Is this practice honorable and encouraged, or is it actually disrespectful and wrong?

Kevin Fellman, via email

Answer: Generally, it is a pious practice, long respected in the Church. It indicates a devotion to the Lord, Our Lady and the saints. However, there can be times or contexts when such practices become a problem. This is usually because they become too elaborate, idiosyncratic or territorial. A general norm to be observed in and around the parish church is that it is a place for public worship and prayer. It is not a private chapel or shrine. Hence, those who clean and maintain these spaces must keep in mind the common good of all the faithful. When shrines or statues start to look cluttered or perhaps suffer from dying and old flowers, tattered notes or holy cards, etc., it is appropriate to clear these from the site.

Generally, this works fine, but there are some who object to “their” flowers, notes, etc., being removed. With candles, too, some get possessive of “their spot” on the candle stand and object to parish staff, organizing votive candles to make room, prevent fires and so forth. If there emerges a hyper-personal or territorial notion about such devotions, something is amiss and needs corrections. Beyond this however, there is usually room in the Church, especially at devotional side altars or shrines, for devotional acts. The key goal is to make room for each other while not usurping public space as if it were private or personal space. 

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at Send questions to