Pope Francis’s visit : the historical context

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

For the past couple of months, the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis has been presented in such a manner as to arouse an emotional response from the public at large. The head of the Vatican and the Catholic Church is, no doubt, a popular figure among Catholics in the West and other countries.The political official discourse delivered on national television regarding the event prophesizes that the Pope’s visit is going to bring unity to the people. Such rhetoric, however superficial, aims to make everyone feel included in the celebration of the event.

Catholicism was introduced by French colonizers in the Indian Ocean islands to Creoles with much emphasis on Jesus, initially Rabbi Yeshua from Israël, as the son of God who loves everyone, be they White or Black. This strategy turned out to be very productive in Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius where the oppressed people desperately needed a saviour to get them out of the hell of a life that slavery inflicted on them. Culturally uprooted and cut off from mainland Africa to the point of no-return as they were, the new religion brought to slaves had the glamour of the white man’s political and economic power, and held the promise of being a powerful and effective force of redemption. Presumably, the identification with the white man’s religion contributed to the new recruits’ sense of superiority vis-à-vis other religions which came later.

In V.S Naipaul’s last trip to Africa, funded by an American organization, his encounters and findings are compiled in one of his last books ‘The Mask of Africa’. His African guide explains that the fact of having a concrete building where followers can meet and be preached by a cleric was a novelty which drew people to the new religion imported into African countries. It sort of gave more reality to belief in a transcendental supreme being. Naipaul met with elderly people in a remote village who related an old African legend which made its way to Jewish legends later on as the story of Abraham.

In the original African version, God speaks to a woman and asks her to sacrifice her daughter to him. It should be noted that in ancient Africa, women held a key role as spiritual mentors in their respective societies. The legend was not common to all African countries. This knowledge is probably lost to Africans themselves. Africans from Ethiopia, and the recent discovery of another tribe in South Africa who speak fluent Hebrew, bear testimony to the fact of Africans having formed part of the twelve tribes of Israël.

Two or three centuries back, it was the representation of the God of Love with European features who loves Whites and Blacks equally which won hearts in the colonies and Africa. In the history of religious iconography, the presentation of Jesus with curly long fair hair, white skin, blue eyes and a benevolent sweet look dates back to the Italian Renaissance – a far cry from the Semitic features of Rabbi Yeshua. Rome was the central point from which Catholicism spread to most of Europe and other countries. Similarly, the Pharaohs with dark complexion were represented as white by Europeans. In the same vein, probably, Lord Shiva was depicted as blue or white depending on who portrayed him.

The final choice of the Vatican, a state which gave both political and religious sovereignty to one Pope, was the outcome of power struggles and bickerings among several candidates backed by Roman and Greek emperors for centuries. It embodies the inextricable link between political power and religious authority and should remind today’s world public of the long struggle led by thinkers and intellectuals to separate politics (which is based on Reason and Philosophy) from religion (which concerns the private spiritual quest of individuals for guidance from other sources). The Church did not willingly relinquish power. The separation of political power and religious authority in Christian Europe was not given to people on a platter.

However, the concept of religious interference in politics is deeply ingrained in Abrahamic religions and has been kept alive up to now in weekly preachings within the precincts of religious halls in some countries, though less in churches in Europe. Very often, the serenity and appeasement followers come out with after prayers and preachings leaves little room for doubt.

The present Pope is said to be a globalist in the same vein as the Evangelists in the US. What this implies at the international level in terms of relationships with other countries should be well understood by any keen observer of the development of religions. In essence, it means that the aggressive proselytization that Romans and other Europeans started, and later the Americans, propagate the teachings of Jesus with is still alive and kicking.

The apostles added other chapters to the Gospel after the death of Jesus. He preached for only three years and did not intend to start a new religion. The apostles elaborated on interaction and relationship between men, their relationship with what they call God, of whom Jesus is a messenger and son, on life and death. And all this is compiled in a single book. The focus of preachers is on the love of Jesus for mankind. The idea of a saviour is very appealing to many, and it continues to draw flocks from other cultures to the different sects that have emerged from Protestant tradition.

Six centuries earlier, the Buddha preached for forty years and did not want a new religion, either. Religion is not the proper term to refer to what constitutes Buddhism and Hinduism, which are totally different in concept from Abrahamic religions. There is no concept of paradise or hell. The mental representations of such phenomena occur on the very earth where we live. We are the creators of our own destiny, which is the premise of the Law of Karma. We are the ones who can save ourselves. The ideal of godliness is within us: we are born with the spark of the divine embodied within us, not as sinners. There are several ways to connect to and unite with the divine.

The globalist strategy means that the goal of the new type of religions born in desert regions two thousand years ago, right from their inception, is still to impose their own system of beliefs on other people and erase indigenous cultures. This goal has been achieved with lots of success across the world. It is an undeniable historical fact. Nearly two decades ago, former Pope John Paul II came to India and right under the nose of a mainly Hindu population, had no qualms about announcing the conversion of Asia to Christianism. He showed total lack of respect for, and understanding of Hindu cultural ethos.

Right now, China is taking pre-emptive and tough steps to keep foreign religions in check because its leaders are fully aware that proselytism from Europe and the US, from Catholic Jesuits and Protestant sects, may claim entry in the garb of democracy with an aim to destabilize China in the long run. The Chinese know fully well that there was nothing democratic or Christian in the endless commercial greed of the US, Britain and France in China, the three Opium wars and the burning of the Summer Palace which rejoiced the aggressors and their rulers back home. The point here is to recall how religion can be used to further self-centred commercial interests in the future.

A fresh harvest of souls may not be on the agenda. The Pope is trying to get his flocks nearer in Europe by urging governments to be lenient on African migration to Europe. Italians are turning a deaf ear to his plea; the people of Europe have had enough of migration; Poland, a hundred per cent Catholic country flatly refuses any other religion on its territory. Besides, the Pope has no solution to the attacks on churches on a daily basis in France. Turning the left cheek no longer goes down well with French Catholics.

There is no other way than historical facts to understand the birth and expansion of religions, the spirit of competition between monotheist faiths, the wars that it entailed between countries, the massacres and trails of bloodshed on the road of military conquests and conversion. Proselytism basically negates other people’s faiths, finds no worth in them, and is bent on pursuing the goal of a hegemonic global faith. It sparks confrontation, conflict, division and enmity within a country. It cannot bring unity in any country.

The 21st century should be a time of reckoning for the role played by different religions in the course of time, based on historical facts, not on propaganda, lies and wishful thinking. Those who have had a field day for centuries may face a boomerang effect which they may not like in decades to come but which is quite easy to understand according to the Law of Karma, whereby every action has a consequence, however long it might take.

* Published in print edition on 6 September 2019

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