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A providential plurality?

By Fr Martin Sirju

Some weeks ago, I was invited to the Mother Earth celebrations by the Orisha community. Baba Neal Rawlins, a leader of the Orisha community and an Inter Religious Organisation member was instrumental in inviting me. The event happened on World Earth Day, April 22.

We began at the Eric Williams Financial Complex on Independence Square. An Orisha woman started by thanking Mama Latte (Mother Earth) for all her blessings to humanity for without the earth we have nowhere to live and no one to feed us.

Interestingly, there was a penitential act towards Mother Earth—the elders told the earth “sorry” for having treated her so badly; for the violations against her leading to climate change and attendant phenomena.

The procession was marked by the beating of African drums, shaking of chac chacs, and blowing of a horn. Vibrant singing too. There were libations and offerings–flour, oil, water, grain, milk, olive oil, powder, lighted camphor, incense, and molasses. About 80 people were present, including curious parties who tagged along.

It was a very soulful experience and the kind of stuff that would make Catholics uncomfortable simply because the rituals would strike them as odd, maybe even pagan.

All of this got me thinking. These earth rituals always arouse the curiosity of non-Orisha believers. I have seen similar reactions to the nature-centred worship of First Peoples. It conveys the sentiment that we have what the established religions, particularly Catholicism, does not—a connection with Mother Earth.

This is rather unfortunate since the Catholic Church uses all the time ingredients that come from the Earth—wheat, grape, oil, water, incense, wax, palms, ashes, earth etc.

Furthermore, the date of Easter is not whimsical but is set according to astronomical details. The Easter Vigil with Baptism screams of Mother Earth and Pope Francis has put aside September as the Month of Creation.

Where we ‘stick’ as Church is not emphasising this enough. We have become a human-centred religion when ironically St Benedict of Nursia renewed Europe after the barbarians ravaged Europe by, among other things, the promotion of agriculture.

And year after year, Corpus Christi passes with little connection between the solemnity and planting. At our last Corpus Christi celebrations at the Cathedral hundreds of packets of vegetable seeds were given out and blessed during the final Benediction.

Many well-educated Catholics of African descent have left the Catholic Church and migrated to the Orisha faith. Why? I think there are several reasons for this.

One of these is the Christian faith is perceived as alienating us from the land, from nature. The ancestors are calling people to remember their past, their roots, the land.

Another reason is the Church is still perceived even after 59 years of Vatican Council II and 50 years of Liturgy School as not a place for African faith seekers. Sacred images and art, banners and colours, music and rhythms are said to be not reflective of the experience of African peoples.

A third reason is that Catholicism is decried as the one that promoted the enslavement of their ancestors and so no right-thinking African with a sense of history should be Catholic. It is the oppressor’s religion, not the religion of black people. In it they lack real power and self-determination.

Another reason is that the Christian faith does not respond to the sensibility of many African people. There can never be an integration, only disjunction. It does not touch the soul of many Africans who feel deeply some connection to Africa and African religion.

In this regard, when it comes to a theology of religions we now have to ask: did the Lord mean for everyone to become Catholic? Or is it that Providence arranged a plurality of religions because Catholicism cannot respond to the needs of myriad subjectivities when conversion generally means leaving one’s former religion behind? Is that necessary or even practical?

When I look at the whole range of Hindu ritual and culture, does becoming a Catholic mean leaving all those things behind? Most people cannot imagine a new Catholicism that integrates itself with the antecedent religion because just too much to carry over.

It seems to me therefore a better approach would be to see that religion in general is perhaps made that way by the Divine Mind because a plurality of ways is needed to apprehend the immensity of God and to indicate the insufficiency of any one religious culture.

While Catholicism remains “the way” and for me the truest way, the other ways, it seems to me, have their value and divine purpose as well.

Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Maybe it’s time we give much further thought to how the God of the cosmos intended everything to hang together while we await the final consummation of things.


Fr Martin Sirju is the Vicar General and administrator of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception