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Thinking outside the Eurocentric box?

Naomi Schaefer Riley of the Wall Street Journal took Fr. Andrew Greeley to task Dec. 1 for making "patronizing" comments about Catholicism in emerging nations.

Greeley, interviewed at a religious conference, was asked about how declining numbers of Catholics in Europe and increasing numbers in South America and Africa would change the face of Catholicism. 

Greeley said, "We will depend on them for vitality, but they will continue to depend on us for the ideas." According to Riley, Greeley then dug himself deeper into a Eurocentric hole:

"[Greeley] claimed that Mexicans 'have patron saints for pick-pockets and prostitutes.' Catholicism in Mexico is 'a religion of joy and celebration. We have much to learn from them.' Yes, it sounds like a compliment, but the condescension--those people and their quaint ways--is unmistakable."

(By the way, the Church has three patron saints of prostitutes, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Egypt and Margaret of Cortona; and St. Nicolas of Myra is patron saint of thieves. There is also the Black Christ of Protobelo, Panama, patron saint of pick-pockets, thought I couldn't find any specific Mexican saint for that particular profession.)

Magnificat, which does a good job selecting daily devotional essays from a variety of Catholic perspectives, does seem to favor those by Europeans. There are a few by Latin Americans (Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, Venerable Conchita, is a favorite). But I didn't notice any by Asians or Africans.

So, as we enter the Advent season, any recommendations for inspirational reads from non-Western sources?



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How about Sushaku Endo's "Silence"? Not necessarily what I'd call devotional, but there's much inspiration there for the mining.

Here's a suggested non-Western read:Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan HolocaustIt's by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan woman who lost most of her family during the genocide, but who credits her Catholicism with sustaining her through very difficult times. I saw her interviewed on PBS, and I was impressed with her faith, composure, eloquence, and compassion, even for those involved in the brutality. Our parish book club will be reading this book for February, so I can't represent that I've already read it. The reviews have been good, however, and 155 reviewers at have given it an overall rating of 5 stars, a rare accomplishment with so many reviewers involved.

Oops. Make that Shusaku for the first name.

I wrote a short post in defense of Greeley here:Clarifying Andrew Greeley

EvangCath, my intent wasn't to bash Greeley specifically. I think we all get a little Eurocentric at times, and it's good to broaden the "reading rack," so to speak.In her editorial, Riley seems to have more of an ax to grind, and tries to connect Greeley with Shelby Spong, which I think is a stretch. I can only imagine what Diogenes, to whom you refer, does because I no longer go over there to monitor that cesspool.Thanks to Mark for the recommendation about Endo's book. I've got it on order.Bill, please let us know how Ilibagiza's book goes. I heard her on the radio some time back while driving in heavy traffic, and her story was so harrowing, I had to turn it off and pull over. So I didn't know she was Catholic.Hope others will have additional suggestions. I got a l-o-n-g cold winter break with a 10-year-old ahead of me.

Jean,In the WSJ Fr. Greeley was also quoted as saying something to the effect that the Catholicism of Latin America was like that of Europe before the Council of Trent. I have to wonder. Certainly there was no lack of intellectual ferment in the Church in Europe before Trent, in particular from the 12th century on with Peter Abaelard et al. There was however more laxity about celibacy and the holding of benefices. Fr. Greeley says a great many things on a variety of subjects. Inevitably some of them are less well thought out than others. I do think his remarks came off as condescending, which is not to say that he was consciously looking down his nose at any one. I for one do not think that people of the Global South will long escape the infection of ideas, good and bad. I can't help wonder what the function of a patron of thieves is. Does he defend their activities before the Almighty? Or does he ask God to give them the grace to mend their ways? Incidentally I believe that at one time in some circles Pontius Pilate was considered a saint. I think he would have made an excellent patron of adminstrators.

Tell me who is not condescending or narrow when it comes to other countries?There is so much spirituality in Africa and the Phillipines. Yet few chronicle it.Sr. Elizabeth Johnson occasionally gives us info on the depth of African women and Robert Blair Kaiser, in his book "A Church In Search of Itself" shows us how the bishops and cardinals are thinking in Asia especially.His introduction to us of Sr. Mary John Mananzan is truly a gift. among liberas it is amazing how conforming they are.Theologians and historians have strong egos and too many tout their own work over far superior works.Then there is the Vatican which wants to tell you exactly what you can read and think.

I always thought the patron saint of thieves was Saint Dismas, putatively the "good thief" of one of the gospels. The little town of San Dimas, known to those who've spent time stuck on the Southern California freeway network, is named in his honor.San Dimas has something of a history in Hollywood movies. Most famously (at least to one of my advanced years), in Stagecoach John Wayne tells Claire Trevor that he's got a little ranch near San Dimas and offers to take her there to settle. Given the professions of the two characters in that movie I'm pretty sure someone was alluding the patron saint of thieves.A book (which I have only read part of it) that framed some interesting issues on the European vs. Mexican view of Church right here in the USA was Death's Deceiver, by Lynn Bridgers, which was apparently reviewed in Commonweal when it was published.I am in basic agreement with Professor Gannon on Greeley -- I always look at his stuff with the sense that it may be interesting or maybe I'll just want to leave it alone. But I think the problem of condescension has a further resonance in the church in (at least in my experience in California and Oregon) the increasing presence of priests from third world countries in American parishes. I vividly remember one priest from a third world country (although one with a several thousand year tradition of high culture) who was regularly dissed by the parishioners as a "spiritual" man -- nothing against being spiritual, but the implication typically was that he wasn't very smart. Without setting myself up as a criterion I did find with my fancy literature degrees from elite colleges that if you actually listened to his homilies he was one of the most sophisticated readers of the gospels I've ever heard preach. Besides, he actually reached out to my adolescent children which very few "American" priests ever bothered to do.

Jean,My apologies. I should have been clearer. I did not intend to criticize you at all or even to suggest that you were attacking Greeley. The post I wrote for my own blog was defending Greeley against the attacks found on another, less informed Catholic blog. I enjoyed your post very much.

No offense taken, EvanCath.Just didn't want the thread to move off into a discussion of Greeley instead of other sources.More on St. Dismas and his partner Gestas here: is listed as patron of thieves, but didn't come up when I searched this site, so thanks for that. I like to know about these obscure saints. They're not as busy and probably have more time to take petitions.

We should not be so narrow-minded that we ignore the spiritual needs of Eurocentric pagans. I suggest Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as patrons for such folks. Statues of both proudly adorn the Cathedral at Lake Como, Italy. Apparently local pride (they lived in the area) triumphed over the seeming difficulty that Pliny the Younger had engaged in the persecution of Christians.

I swear that in a reading from the lectionary during Holy Week I heard Dismas described as a revolutionary. This seemed to me at the time to be a rather tendentious, not to say politicizing, translation. A more precise one would be "bandit" or "brigand", but perhaps that is how the Romans characterized some Jewish rebels. So we have the "good revolutionary" or "the good bandit". Is anyone else the patron of revolutonaries or bandits? There may be an opening here. The traditional "thief" is off the mark.I have heard a number of homilies from African priests, some very good, some not so. One problem is poor command of English. I must say that I did know one priest from Africa whose English was shaky, fortunately, because what he said was often wrong or foolish. A case in point. One day he explained a Gospel reading in which Jesus says he will give his body to eat and his blood to drink. The people he was addressing were taken aback. Father X. said that Jesus was only speaking metaphorically, but the Jews failed to understand and so were upset. Father X. had already at this point been told that his appointment would not be renewed. I am not sure what became of him.

Perhaps because they were in the US as graduate students the East African priests I knew in California were absolutely first rate in all respects, and they had a leg up on acceptance because several of the local parishes were staffed with priests from an Irish missionary order (don't laugh, most of them were terrific) which had worked in East Africa.What did surprise me was how effective the priest from Kenya was when he took over the high school age religious ed group. Took a serious approach and got total buy in from the kids.Let's just say Dismas, like the Ringo Kid, was an Enemy of the Roman Order.I thought the lectionary characterized Dismas by that common English term "insurrectionist?"

I think you are thinking of Barabbas, whom modern translations have described as an insurrectionist or revolutionary. It wasn't the "good thier" on the cross.

So much for my memory, perhaps. John 18:40 uses the term "lestes" of Barabbas. The NRSV renders the term by "bandit" as does Raymond Brown. That is the ordinary meaning in Greek. This is the term that apparently some "modern translations" render as "insurrectionist" or "revolutionary". In any case the same term is used of the two men crucified with Jesus. Again the NRSV renders "bandits" (Mark 15:27. Matt 27: 38 and 44). So also Brown. The NAB has "revolutionary" and "revolutionaries" in all these passages. The NAB translation is ar best an interpretation rather than a translation. The traditional "thief" , good or otherwise, is not a good translation of "lestes".

If I'm not flogging a dead horse, the word for the "good thief" in Luke, which is the only Gospel in which the story occurs, is actually kakourgos. Possibly it's a technical term I don't know, but I suspect it's used to set up the bit about "Dismas" having deserved his fate because he had done wrong but Jesus, having done no wrong, not deserving his.Back to Greeley, unless I misread he seems to misrepresent what the point of a patron saint is. Surely the point of saints who were prostitutes, thieves, soldiers, and bad tempered translators is to remind all of us that the kingdom of God is full of people, like ourselves, who are imperfect or worse, not a bunch of disembodied ideals. This may be another example of something Anglican spirituality is increasingly comfortable with while we Commonweal Catholics still find a need to be embarrassed.

It is true that "kakourgos" according to LSJ is a technical term in Attic law meaning thief or robber, but literally it means, as you know, evil-doer or malefactor, and the NRSV the NJB and the NAB all use "criminal" at Luke 23:39. Bauer's Lexicon of the NT does not mention the Attic usage. Interestingly enough, Tyndale renders "lestes" by "thief" when it is a question of the two men crucified with Jesus, but uses "robber" to translate the same word applied to Barabbas.

Gene says: Surely the point of saints who were prostitutes, thieves, soldiers, and bad tempered translators is to remind all of us that the kingdom of God is full of people, like ourselves, who are imperfect or worse, not a bunch of disembodied ideals. This may be another example of something Anglican spirituality is increasingly comfortable with while we Commonweal Catholics still find a need to be embarrassed.Jean says: I frequently call on St. Jerome, unofficial patron saint of misanthropes and grumps, for help. Veneration of the saints, while still "kosher" in Anglican circles, has been largely ignored, so not sure what you mean here.

Jean,I am also given to invoking St. Jerome. I used to think he was insufferable, but in the last few years I have come to be fond of him. The biography by J.N.D. Kelly was instrumental, althoug it a portrait of the man with all the worts.

Joseph, St. Jerome had a lot of work to get done, struggling over "lestes" and "kakourgos" and whatnot. He was an irritable know-it-all for whom God found a perfect use.What people don't realize is how many times St. Jerome willingly ate crow when he was proved wrong and how much gratitude he felt toward the women who financed his work and helped him with his scholarship.The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to salvation is largely paved with "I'm sorry's" and "Thank yous."

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