Global Perspective

June 21, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 8

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Janina Gomes
Janina Gomes is a freelance writer and works for chambers of commerce and other business organizations. She also contributes regularly to the "Speaking Tree," a column of philosophy and religion in the national daily, The Times of India.



Open Letters to the New Pope:

Churchgoers must confront some tough questions

By Janina Gomes

(Editor's Note: Global Perspective is featuring Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Janina Gomes writes from Mumbai, India.)

Dear Holy Father:

I belong to a church community in a suburb of Mumbai. The church is always packed for Sunday Masses, and attendance is high for daily Mass, devotions, novenas and other forms of devotional exercises throughout the year. But it appears to me that our community is more concerned with rituals than with real spirituality. There often seems to be little connection between the Eucharist they share and their daily lives.

Read more letters to the pope
  • Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves from Chennai, India: Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!.
  • Joseph Adero Ngala from Nairobi, Kenya: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
  • Geraldine Hawkes from Adelaide, Australia: In the right hands, a garden can flourish.
  • Janina Gomes from Mumbai, India: Churchgoers must confront some tough questions.
  • Michael Gillgannon from La Paz, Bolivia: We can, must learn from our errors.
  • Antonio D. Sison from the Philippines: The musings of a Filipino Catholic.
  • Dominic Emmanuel from New Delhi: Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity.
  • Virginia Saldanha from Mumbai, India: Asian women request a true dialogue.
  • Greg Lopez from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: How much is too much?.
  • Perhaps because like all large cities we have many shifts in population and a changing pace of life and value system, there is very little real sense of community. Often family events are organized to showcase the talent of the community. But in the end, I get the feeling that few people really bond and get to know each other.

    There are now what are called Small Christian Communities in the parish. Among the few that I know of, they do meet on occasion for a Eucharistic celebration and some snacks. Many people want to run away before the function is over -- perhaps because they feel they have better things to do or that they do not really have a sense of belonging.

    There are parishes in our suburbs, too, well manned and perhaps well run administratively. But I begin to get the feeling that there are few pastors who really have the time, patience and ability to enter the lives of people to support them and to help them in their day-to-day spiritual journey.

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    Perhaps this all sounds negative, but is that not the reason people leave the church and join other sects? There they seem to find some sense of community, of fellowship and emotional support.

    I am also not sure how many of our church community really know what their faith is all about. They have no questions in their minds and no real seeking for answers. It may have been all right in the medieval ages to have an unthinking church people. But in the 21st century, I wonder how many of these devout followers will continue to fill the church pews once they realize there is a serious disconnect between what they are doing in church and in their daily lives.

    There are, of course, theological courses now organized for the laity. But even that seems to be at the level of information. Many seem to treat it as a classroom lecture with little personal involvement.

    I cannot be judgmental. But I get the feeling and hear that many young people attend church events or get married in church only because their parents want them to. They do not understand the meaning of sacraments or sacramental life. Some even say that, like in Europe, our churches here may begin to empty within the next generation. Perhaps it is a pessimistic view of affairs, but no one should ignore the warning signs.

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    I believe your office could support our church communities in several ways. First, by encouraging a thinking rather than an unthinking church. There can be no genuine spirituality when no questions are asked or encouraged. Today, all blind obedience will produce is a church of devotions unable to face the tough challenges of the present century.

    Your office could also encourage the followers of Jesus to really explore their spirituality. Movements like the charismatic movement and Neo-Catechumenate may be sufficient for some, but they leave many others untouched. Not everyone likes the overt emotional forms of praying or the extreme rigors of a Neo-Catechumenate.

    I also hear that there is now an Opus Dei presence in our suburb. Some community members go there. Others are scared because of the controversial items that appear in the newspapers about what the role of the Opus Dei is in the Catholic church. Perhaps your office could help clear some of this confusion.

    If the church in this local community is to survive in a meaningful way, we need to face some tough questions about the way many priests function as professionals and administrators rather than pastors and about the role of the laity. Can we afford in the 21st century to have followers who blindly follow what they are taught, more concerned with rituals rather than content?

    Your office could support our community by encouraging people to a genuine spirituality. It is often the spirit of arrogance and superiority and the way power is used and displayed in our local church institutions that puts people off. You could encourage the re-discovery of the servant mentality. I believe a church without humility or the ability to face serious questions like this cannot survive very long. No one is prepared to accept an overlord anymore. People will find other spiritual paths where there is an acceptance of human equality and an openness to others and different religions.

    If you tell a 21st century Indian today that the Catholic church is the sole repository of the truth, they would only laugh. In a complex country, evolving with centuries of civilization and a rich and diverse culture, many may accept our way of life and our traditions and our spirituality, but many may also wonder how relevant it is to our times.

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