Cardinal Felix to be buried in Dominica after St Lucia funeral
June 4, 2024
Blood type and diet
June 4, 2024

Church and Indian culture – an ongoing dialogue

On the occasion of Indian Arrival Day, which commemorates the arrival of East Indian indentured labourers to Trinidad in 1845, it’s fitting to examine the profound impact this community has had on the Catholic Church in the nation’s rich cultural tapestry.

In a discussion with Darrion Narine, Programme Manager, Catholic Commission of Social Justice, and the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees, he recounted his childhood memories attending the La Divina Pastora festivity in Siparia.

“You would hear bhajans being sung amongst our Catholic hymns. Then you would hear the Catholic prayers going on while there were rituals taking place,” recalled Narine. “There was a communal effort where we saw people coming together, inclusivity happening, and a certain level of religious syncretism.”

This blending of East Indian and Catholic traditions left an indelible mark on the young Narine. As he put it, “I realised that the Catholic Church itself was influenced by the East Indian population in significant and magnificent ways.”

One of the most visible integrations is the use of traditional Indian instruments like the tabla and harmonium in church music. As interviewer Neil Parsanlal noted, “I remember many years ago in the Catholic Hymnal, we actually had the bhajans, Christian bhajans, incorporated.”

But the Indian influence goes well beyond music. Narine pointed to the “architecture and decor that we see, with materials traditionally used by the Indian community.” He added, “Nearly every gathering has aloo pie or doubles.”

Perhaps most profoundly, Indian spiritual practices have made inroads. “There’s been a massive movement towards meditation and contemplative practice within the Catholic Church,” said Narine. “Breathwork, which is big in Indian traditions, has become a part of our prayer life.”

This two-way cultural exchange didn’t require Indians to discard their identity upon converting to Catholicism. As Parsanlal observed, “The East Indian community did not have to lose their ‘Indianness’ to become Catholic.” Indian women continued wearing saris and other traditional garb in church.

Narine affirmed, “You see people not shying away, but wearing their cultural garb and dress…That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church—the integration of different people into one space.”

This mutual understanding is championed by current Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, who according to Narine, “continues to call for the integration of different people, for the conversations to continue, and for us to look at new and different ways of having our individual expressions.”

The Archbishop’s inclusive vision aligns with that of Pope Francis’, who “talks about reaching out to different cultures, to bridge the gap,” said Narine (see page 23).

While social media can sometimes stoke ethnic divisions, Narine believes open dialogue is key: “We have to make sure we keep [unity] by having constant conversations.” Parsanlal highlighted pioneers like the late Fr Thomas Harricharan who helped incorporate Indian elements into the liturgy.

Looking ahead, Narine sees the blending of cultures as an ongoing process already in motion, guided by the Archbishop’s call “for the conversations to continue, and for us to find new ways of individual expression with the common goal of serving Jesus Christ.”

Assisted generation using