columnist Father Raymond J. de Souza was in
A Religious People
At the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount in Bandra, a district of Mumbai (formerly
That is impressive enough, but more striking still is that many are not Catholic.
The sight of a chador-clad Muslim woman bent low in homage before the Mother of God is quite unremarkable here. During the patronal feast on Sept. 8, a week-long celebration brings hundreds of thousands to the shrine, the majority not Catholic.
India has a secular constitution and a popular culture that is as superficial as anything in Hollywood — or “Bollywood” as the huge local film industry is called — but the culture is profoundly religious.
Even in the cities, the natural religiosity of the people is evident with people incorporating prayer into their daily routine while going about their business. Religion is not relegated to a purely private sphere. It is taken seriously as part of common life. No generic holiday season in Mumbai — they celebrate Diwali, Eid and Christmas, respecting that religious feasts are primarily religious. The potential for evangelization — 975 million non-Christians in a country with a natural piety — is immense.
Catechists and Evangelization
They call it a subcontinent for a reason. Across the
After morning Mass one day, I met a group of about 20 young people from that region, along with their chaplain. They had made a three-day train trek to attend a retreat marking the end of their 10-month intensive training program as catechists. Musically gifted, they offered to sing a song in their native dialect. Impressed, I asked them for an encore. My jaw hit the floor when the 4 followed it up with an a cappella version of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
Not only in the remote regions, but even the cities, catechists and youth ministers are far advanced in terms of lay evangelization and youth ministry.
Well-trained, committed full-time and with what can
only be called missionary zeal, there are thousands who understand that the
apostolate of the laity is truly evangelical. The continuing evangelization of
A Church of Global Influence
Mumbai needed a new archbishop because the last one, Cardinal Ivan Dias, was appointed this year to be the “Red Pope” — the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Responsible for the missionary territories, the congregation appoints bishops in about a third of the world, and is responsible for many of the areas where the Church’s growth is most explosive.
Cardinal Dias is the first Asian to hold the post, and he is no token appointment; he was thought by many to be a serious option for pope — white, not red — in 2005.
Cardinal Dias’ elevation signaled that
The size of the
At only 1.8% of the population,
The Archdiocese of Mumbai has only 500,000 Catholics — a midsize diocese by European or North American standards. But factor in 80% Mass attendance, 300 diocesan priests plus scores more religious, religious sisters in abundance, including those under 40, and a naturally religious culture, and the vibrancy of Catholic life would put to shame much larger dioceses abroad.
That’s the reason behind the increasing number of
Indians present in
Faith and Culture —
Nowhere did he have more success than in
has long produced a large share of
As the faith spreads in
To Western eyes, it is odd to tell the story of Jesus alongside any saint, no matter how prominent. While the presentation is careful not to deny the divinity of Christ, it clearly attempts to present Jesus within the Eastern tradition of a great holy man or guru.
The danger is that such presentations risk precisely
downplaying the central proclamation of the Gospel — that Jesus is Lord. The
correct balance is difficult is achieve; it remains the principal theological
and pastoral challenge for the Church’s missionary work in
The Church in
Father Raymond J. de Souza
served as the Register’s
correspondent from 1999 to 2003.