Over the weekend, I attended mass in Connecticut. As an Indian Catholic, I am used to my family being the only people of color in church. Normally, it doesn’t matter (unless we’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, but that’s another story). But this time, the priests homily made me deeply, deeply uncomfortable, but I couldn’t exactly go up to him after mass and offer a critique. So here is everything I couldn’t tell him.
As a disclaimer: I was raised Catholic and technically still identify as such. I am not the most religious when left to my own devices, but I am still figuring out what my faith really is. I think a lot about my religion, but there are a few sticking points for me.
The priest’s homily centered around evangelization, a topic that I am already a bit touch and go on, and one that was particularly awkward as we were in Connecticut spending the weekend with a large group of entirely Hindu friends. I believe that all religions are true, and if you scrape them down to the bare principles, they all say the same thing: be a good person and treat others how you’d want to be treated.
But back to the sermon. Now, I was ready to tune out and take a little nap while pretending I was really deep in thought. But, the priest caught my attention by mentioning an interview with Pope Benedict. I don’t particularly like Pope Benedict, but what caught my attention wasn’t his name but the phrase “Age of Exploration”.
In my experience, priests don’t really mention the Church’s involvement with the state in the past as it generally brings up a history rife with egregious abuses, violence, and greed. Pope Benedict’s interview concerned the spirit of evangelization during the Age of Exploration (aka the time of Columbus, De Gama, and all those other colonizers).
Benedict had said something along the lines of how we need to recapture that spirit, that we had lost it. I’m sitting there, trying probably very unsuccessfully to control the expression on my face. The “spirit of evangelization” referred to brutal colonization, the rape, murder, and forcible conversion of native peoples the world over. All I could think about was the evangelization he was referring to was synonymous with the Spanish Inquisition the Goan Inquisition where over 16,000 people were brought to trial and is part of the reason my family is Catholic. That spirit of evangelization killed thousands and thousands of people over the years, and added to the Western superiority complex.
And here was this white priest, preaching to a white congregation, about that beautiful spirit of evangelization and the brave missionaries that brought Jesus to the dark corners of the world. He really said dark corners of the world as if everywhere not Christian was full of uncivilized heathens.
In a way, he was wrong. The spirit of evangelization he referred to is still and alive and well, it is present every time a lawmaker tries to restrict a woman’s access to reproductive healthcare, it was present when Ted Cruz said he is a Christian before he is an American, it is present every time we demonize Islam, it is present in every anti-semitic statement, it is present in my Goan and Manglorean Catholic family.
He can rest easy.