Monday, February 10, 2014

Race and Religion

Ghana, early 1980s. Catholic missionaries have come, bringing schools, health care, and simple, nourishing food in times of famine. This is a Sunday. The white missionary priest has just finished Mass and must travel to the next village, about 12 miles away, to say Mass for them. His transportation? The shoulders of young men native to the region.

Quick, what's your gut reaction?

Perhaps I'm just projecting, but I imagine many of you felt uncomfortable with that image. I did. Picturing the white priest being carried by the black natives elicits a backdrop of apartheid and white elitism. It smacks of corrupt religious power and exploitation. I had a hard time letting go of my view of the situation to hear what our priest was saying.

Our priest is from Ghana. He was telling of his own experience of missionaries coming, bringing "the white man's religion" to his village. He praised the missionaries who came "not with just a Bible, but with education and medicine. They put a human face on this religion." He was remembering fondly how those in his village would volunteer to carry the priest to the next village. "We had no transportation. If he had to walk, he would have been too tired to say Mass for them."

He didn't go into details, but I imagine this missionary priest was not a young man in the prime of life. While not feeble, he was old enough that a 12 mile walk would have exhausted him. Still, he likely felt very uncomfortable accepting a ride from his congregation. What humility to accept that he was not self-sufficient. The same humility was in those young men who served, men whose joy was so great in the Eucharist that they would not hear of depriving the next village of the same when they could bring the priest.

No great moral to the story here, I just found it interesting how our own culture colors our perceptions.


  1. Sweet niece,

    My gut reaction? Oh, that poor preist's feet must've had something wrong with them that he needed to be carried.

    1. Yes, it seems that I was just projecting. I've heard from three people now and none had the same reaction I did. Guess I'm just odd.

  2. My gut reaction? Love. My aunt and uncle are still translating the Bible into one of the Ghanaian languages for their village (after 20+ years of hard work), and split their time between Africa and North America. They are well loved in the village, so much so that my grandmother was invited to live there permanently as "the woman who raised her son so well."

    1. Beautiful, what an act of love. Thank you for sharing!