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Popish thoughts

Glittering Shards: Popish thoughts

Glittering Shards

Monday, April 18, 2005

Popish thoughts

It's been a couple of weeks since a human called Karol Wojtiwa (aka Pope) died. The emotion has subsided and the announcement of a new Pope is any day now...

I was raised in a home where Catholicism was nominally practiced. I went to a Catholic school run by the Salesians and overall, had a very positive experience there. In my late teens, I began processing what I was taught about God and faith and went from a brief atheist spell to a journey of discovering my own faith rather than borrowing it second hand (or just going through the motions out of duty and guilt). This journey led me to experiencing the many shades of 'Christian' and 'church' that exist and whilst there is a mixture of good and bad in all, sadly, the 'bad' has to date left me in the 'Christian refugee camp' - spiritually homeless, belonging nowhere yet belonging everywhere.

In this state of spiritual homelessness, I have gravitated back to the Catholic church, going every now and then to at least have some connection to the wider Christian community. A total lack of any welcome coupled with some downright awful messages from the pulpit ("When Jesus was beaten, stripped and spat at he remained silent and so must we if those things happen to us"....grrrrrrr!!!!!) has meant that my attendance at mass is a rare event, endured rather than enjoyed.

So when the Pope died, I was surprised that I wanted to go to mass and that I wanted to participate in some way in the ritual of mourning. There is a lot about the late Pope that I struggled with - the issues around women, contraception, sexuality - yet at the same time, I felt a warmth towards him, a response to those eyes that seemed to have love dancing in them.

As the week following his death unfolded, I listened to the range of views being expressed in the media about the Pope - from hatred and intolerance to ambivalence and blind acceptance. I reflected on my own reactions. I realised that the easiest thing to do in response to a person or institution which we think has deep flaws is to totally write them off. Doing this removes any responsibility for having to relate and struggle towards a common humanity. It is much harder to live with ambivalence and say "I don't like these bad bits but I recognise the good" and try as hard as you can within your limits to stay in dialogue and honour common humanity.

The other thing I realised was that being a Catholic is, for me, a strongly social and cultural thing and that the balance between the 'socio-cultural' and 'spiritual' dimensions of being Catholic varies from person to person. You can disagree with some of the elements but still be part of the Catholic family because it is part of your roots, history and culture. It has a strong parallel with family. You can be totally alienated from your family, but in a deeper way, you are always part of it and it is part of you - its just a matter of re-defining your relationship. Of course, being an Italian Catholic, the cultural ties to Catholicism are even more deeply ingrained. I recall as a child how, when the Pope would appear on TV to give his Easter blessing, the adults in the room would kneel. In this strange way, the head of the family died a couple of weeks ago and regardless of your relationship (or non-relationship) to him, it was an event of significance as evidenced by the crowds.

The last thing I learnt was the importance of not assuming we are all the same, think the same, feel the same. On the day of the Pope's funeral, I and a colleague were running a training day with 15 participants. I certainly felt the need (social, cultural and a bit spiritual) to somehow be part of what was happening in Rome but felt quite reticent raising my need, fearful of reactions and being put in the position of having to defend the Pope's stance on contraception (duh!). This didn't happen - the two colleagues I raised it with were very respectful - however we struggled to think of the best way of acknowledging the funeral with the wider training group and making space for those who maybe wanted to do something.
In the end, the day before the funeral, my co-trainer talked to the training group and offered for participants to come and tell us about any ways they might like to acknowledge the Pope's funeral if it was important to them. When the day of the funeral arrived, I also told the group that I'd found a Catholic church round the corner and if anyone wanted to join me, I would be going there at lunchtime to light a candle, reflect, say a prayer...

I felt out on a limb, fearful that instead of doing something that helped me feel connected to my roots, I would end up feeling alienated, as I trudged off on my lonely lunchtime pilgrimage.
To my surprise, lunch time arrived and one third of the training group said they wanted to join me. So off we went, talking and sharing our views as we walked. It was human, honest. People came for different reasons. You could assume nothing about what this little pilgrimage signaled about an individual's faith or views.

Afterwards, one person came up to me and thanked me for having acknowledged the funeral and made space for her. It made think about how wrong it would have been to assume that one perspective of the Pope and his death was the dominant / valid one. This was 'diversity' in action - not allowing one view or set of needs to dominate but recognising that every one has different responses for a myriad of reasons and to allowing all to'be'.



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