(August 19, 2020)
“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear (the followers of Jesus) speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2: 9-11)
Pentecost marks the birth of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 726). I believe it was no accident that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had as one of its effects a Spirit of inclusivity among all races and all languages – all people.
The Spirit came to unite, not to bestow privilege to some or preference to a particular group. However, the history of the Catholic Church, including the present, seems to suggest otherwise.
The Catholic (i.e. “Universal”) Church has devolved from a Global Church to a Eurocentric Church. This is evident through the following:
- The use of Latin as the “universal” language of the Liturgy and Church Documents
- The European depictions of Jesus and Mary
- The merging of interests of evangelization and colonization, resulting in the exploitation and insensitive proselytization of native peoples over nearly every continent
- The permeation of racist beliefs and attitudes throughout the Church’s history
- The lack of proportional representation among the clergy and hierarchy relative to the cultures of the Catholic Laity, particularly in Europe where the cardinals comprise twice the proportion of European Catholics.
While the bullet points above would take a doctoral dissertation to cover, I will mention the following Eurocentric injustices:
- Liturgical “orthodoxy” in the form of the Extraordinary Rite as being superior to the Novus Ordo or liturgy in the vernacular.
- The lack of a coherent denouncement of the sin of racism from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. If a Church is to be truly Catholic, there should be no place for racism. The issues facing Black people should also be issues facing the Church if it were truly universal.
- The Eurocentric Jesus: If the historical Jesus roamed the Earth today, He would not recognize the depictions of “Jesus” in churches and museums. Many White Christians in particular have been worshipping an idol of White Jesus as opposed to the real Christ. I would be curious if these White Christians would equally hang up a picture of Mary with the Child Jesus if they were depicted in the historical context with their Jewish-Middle Eastern features.
- The Latinization of the Malabar (South Indian) Christians: On a personal note, I am of South Indian origin, where Saint Thomas the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel and eventually died for the Faith. Hence, Christianity has been practiced in India long before it had been observed in many European countries. However, the Church in South India experienced a tragic Latinization when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th Century and eventually accused the believers of Nestorianism*, essentially called them heretics, and forced them to adopt the Latin Liturgy and practices. In reaction to this, there emerged a schism whereby large groups of South Indian believers took the Coonan Cross Oath (Coonan means “bent” in the South Indian dialect Malayalam, describing the bent shape of the cross that was used for the Oath) and aligned themselves with the Syrian Orthodox Church. This schism would not have been necessary had the Church been truly Catholic. Instead, Eurocentric views were imposed on the South Indian faithful. (Candidly, I wish my ancestors had protested and taken the Coonan Cross Oath.)
- The racism of Saint Francis Xavier: Francis Xavier is one of my favorite saints. However his humanity and imperfection resulted in him holding inequitable beliefs toward the Indian people he served, often referring to them as Negroes and having no love or appreciation for the Indian people in his writings. Mumbai Cardinal Simon Pimenta offered the poor excuse that the “beliefs and actions of people of earlier ages cannot be judged by the principles of a later age.” By stating this, the Cardinal himself became complicit in a Latinized cover-up of the saint’s past as opposed to acknowledged the wrongs for what they were and offer contrition on behalf of the Church. Had the Church been universal and not Eurocentric, Xavier would not have been formed in these wrongful ideas and could have been a more effective evangelist to the Indian people.
A truly Catholic Church would reflect the Spirit that breathed the Church into life, one that was not exclusive but accessible to a plurality of races and languages since the beginning.
A truly Catholic Church would uphold the dignity of all people.
A truly Catholic Church would have representations of Jesus that are truly Catholic.
A truly Catholic Church would respect the expression of the faith as exhibited by a cultural context, and like God, delight in it and call it good (cf. Gen: 1:31).
A truly Catholic Church would not be Eurocentric but one that every person could call home.
In truth, the Church’s multicultural people and expressions enrich the Faith and more closely resembles the expansive and all-encompassing Trinity, who created all peoples in its image and deemed them good.
In contrast, a Eurocentric Church is an incomplete and inadequate expression of the Faith, and in itself is a poor counterfeit of the Body of Christ.
Therefore, it is time to make the Church Catholic again!
*Nestorianism: A heresy derived from a Christian sect which asserted the independence of Christ’s divine and human natures, as opposed to the Christian doctrine that both the divine and human natures exist in the person of Christ.