Who Are Our Untouchables? Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 09:12
Several thousand tribal and Dalit Hindus in India have converted en masse to Buddhism at a ceremony in Mumbai. The converts hope to escape the rigid caste system in which their status is the lowest. You can read more about the event in a BBC article linked in here.

It makes a lot of sense that those of low caste might wish to "cast off" the shackles of a religion that keeps them marginalized within their own culture. Indeed, the hope of new opportunities, a new life, have always been a part of religious conversion.

St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:26-29) would indicate that that community wasn't composed of elites. "Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God."

The Gospel was first embraced by those who had become marginalized within traditional Judaism - known sinners and women. Of course, the Gospel still must be proclaimed to sinners, which includes each one of us. But beyond that commonality, to whom else might the Gospel be effectively addressed today?

When we think of evangelization within our own communities, we need to consider those who might be most open to the Gospel may not be the wealthy, the educated, the powerful, but, instead, the poor, the unemployed, and those who are marginalized because of disability, sexual orientation, marital status, or the lack of education. These may well be our own "untouchables."

Yet when I think of the communities in which I have served, I have to admit I don't know how well the homeless, the single parent, the hearing impaired, or the person with a homosexual orientation were embraced. It is not enough to preach about welcoming these individuals, that welcome has to be extended by people in the pews, and that means often stretching beyond ourselves, and seeking to find the Lord where we might rather not look.

I'm guessing that throughout the history of the Church, the people who have been most open to receiving the hope-filled Gospel of new life and conversion have been precisely the sort of people "respectable folks" are uncomfortable around.

These days would a recent Hispanic immigrant (illegal or not) find welcome in our parishes? Or a middle-eastern Catholic? Why do so many of our parishes look so homogeneous? Why do we tolerate the fact that in our dioceses some parishes have gleaming physical plants and all the electronic bells and whistles imaginable, while Our Lady of Deferred Maintenance barely survives financially from month to month, and has a skeleton staff?

Which of these parishes, do you think, would have a community like that described by St. Paul?

We who are "respectable" in the eyes of the world may not be as converted to the Lord as we think. We may need to be reduced to nothing.

My friend, Pat Armstrong, occasionally sends me these interesting articles from the BBC and the Irish Times, and for that I'm grateful!