Comment Opinion & Features

Letters: What really draws indigenous peoples to Catholicism

Indigenous Waiapi people walk in the Amazon forest (Getty)

How to evangelise indigenous peoples

SIR – It was with great joy and interest that I read Daniel Dolley’s article on “how to evangelise the Amazon” (Cover story, January 24).

Dr Dolley’s point that the Amazon communities are more traditional in their approach to gender roles, religion and ritual action than those who advocate on their behalf is also valid for the Karen communities in northern Thailand, where I did my own ethnographic fieldwork for my DPhil in International Development.

I lived for a total of 12 months in a Catholic Karen village in Chiang Mai province. An elderly French missionary priest was responsible for the village church and the community appreciated his liturgical correctness. There were daily Masses and morning prayer and weekly rosaries and Stations of the Cross during Lent. The women in the village formed a Legio Mariae group and most households had holy water at home.

The village elders started to become Catholics in the 1950s and spiritual protection was – just like for the Amazon people – a major reason for conversion.

During my stay, villagers told me several times that they preferred priests who wore proper vestments, including an alb, to those who just use a stole for celebrating Mass. A good liturgy and the correct vestments gave the religious service the dignity that the Karen expected from sacred rites. Indeed, like the Amazon people Dr Dolley wrote about, the Karen people in Thailand did not find it difficult to engage with the traditional rituals of the Church.

Perceiving this parallel between the Amazon people and the Karen of northern Thailand highlights to me the global dimension of the issue at stake, ie how the Church can best serve indigenous peoples around the world.

Pia Jolliffe

Cumnor, Oxfordshire

Don’t judge Latin by its ‘usefulness’

SIR – On Richard Ingrams’s reminiscences of his classical education (Charterhouse, February 7), it is indeed astonishing how much time many of our predecessors spent on Latin and Greek. It didn’t seem to do them much harm: this was, after all, the generation that invented the computer, space travel and the nuclear bomb.

Cobbett’s rejection of learning “what can never be of any real use to any human being” (quoted by Ingrams) is corrosive of a humane education. Even in the sciences, the vast majority of what children learn, once they get beyond the kindergarten level, is not going to be of direct use to them in adult life.

For a few, it lays the foundations for later specialisation. For the great majority, it serves as a pedagogical task which trains memory and reasoning, and gives an intellectual formation in the fundamental concepts and worldview of their culture. Latin and Greek are ideally suited to both roles.

Ingrams wonders if the prime minister Harold Macmillan was well prepared by his classical education to deal with the Profumo affair. Macmillan’s exposure to the intense interest among classical authors in the way lust can disrupt society would certainly seem more relevant to that particular challenge than knowledge of differential equations or the formation of the Himalayas.

In Boris Johnson we seem to have a Prime Minister not only educated in the Classics, but actually living them: displaying a combination of high principle, opportunism and a complicated love life which could have taught Pericles and Julius Caesar a thing or two.

Sadly, this Classical education was shaped by the Enlightenment to connect modernity to the ancient world while bypassing Christianity and the ages of faith. Boris would have benefitted from the psychological insights of St Augustine, the subtle vision of St Thomas Aquinas, and the beauty and insistent faith of the Latin liturgical tradition.

Catholic schools and parents must do their best to ensure that our own children do not miss out on these key components of our religious culture.

Joseph Shaw, Chairman, The Latin Mass Society
London WC2

Five-digit threat

SIR – I am most grateful for the clear and  informative coverage given by the Catholic Herald to the spreading of anti-life attitudes in Western society, from Ireland to Argentina. It may be helpful to share the image of the five digits of the open hand to indicate the five anti-life issues to be confronted, in order to be consistent and fully Catholic in this struggle. They are as follows: abortion; euthanasia, whether by the individual or the state; suicide, whether wilful or “assisted”;

nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, even in a war deemed to be just; and capital punishment, in all circumstances.

Fr Raymond Hickey OSA
St Monica’s Priory, Jos, Nigeria

Types of Anglicanism

SIR – Whatever types of Anglicanism have developed over the centuries, the fact is that it emerged out of a Protestant mindset and revolution. Cranmer’s Ordinal and prayer book stamped the new denomination with “a native character and spirit”. Thus the Catholic Church concluded that Anglican orders were not in the apostolic succession, as they had no intention of passing on the Catholic priesthood. Good intentions or sincerity cannot alter that defect.

What appears as Puritanism to Mr Eddy (Letter, February 7) is in fact the definitive judgment of Holy Mother Church.

Robert Ian Williams
Bangor-is-y-coed, Wrexham

Why they leave

SIR –Jonathan Sadler (Letter, February 7) writes that the Holy Spirit could not lead people to leave the true Body of Christ into a Pentecostal church, claiming that they find there the fire of the Holy Spirit.

I too believe the calm and wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit in reverent silent worship is as strong in our tradition. But the Holy Spirit also, at times, leads us towards exuberant praise of our living God, as is evident in the Scriptures (eg Psalm 150; 1 Corinthians 12) and in current experience (eg Catholic Charismatic Renewal leaders had warm exuberant audiences with recent popes).

My experience is that people do not leave our Catholic Church for a Pentecostal fellowship over theological (or moral) issues. Rather, they join a “living” congregation where they experience the presence of God in its missionary endeavours (cf Evangelii Gaudium) and in a caring Christian community as we are called to be. The Church has to embrace a range of worship styles, suited to the time, place and people, but worshipping our one, true God.

Brian Taylor
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Managing bishops

SIR – Brian Dive (Feature, February 7) suggests management theory could help bishops. I would like to point out that bishops already undergo a “performance appraisal” every five years. It’s called an ad limina visit.

Gregory Vine
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania