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A Story From Cardinal O’Malley

August 5, 2014

I was catching up on some old email and I found this story from Cardinal O’Malley as relayed by Michael Sean Winters:

O’Malley …related a story about the Capuchin provincial asking for a truly difficult assignment for the friars. They were given the missionary territory of Papua New Guinea. O’Malley relates:

Many years later, a young friar I ordained who was working in Papua New Guinea came to see me on his home visit. He had glorious pictures of smiling natives, with bones in their noses, feathers in their hair and little else in the way of clothing. He announced proudly, “This is my parish council.” I was particularly intrigued because one of my own pastors had just told me that his parishioners were not ready for a parish council. 

There is a deeper message here, but I must admit, as soon as I read this, I threw my head back and laughed.  Enjoy!

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11 Comments
  1. August 5, 2014 3:25 pm

    Yes, this is profound. And I too got a good laugh out of it. Thanks much for posting the Cardinal’s story. But who are we laughing at? And why?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      August 6, 2014 6:48 am

      Me, I am laughing at the American pastor (whose conferes I have met) who thinks his laity cannot handle the task—the thought of him in mission territory, while it would be terrible in reality, is quite amusing in my imagination.

      Lurking in the background are some western stereotypes: that feathers in the hair and bones in the nose and a general lack of clothing equates with “savages,” “uncivilized” or at least “unsophisticated.” I am willing to grant that because the butt of the joke lies elsewhere.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        August 6, 2014 5:54 pm

        Before I saw the comments, I thought you meant this as a commentary on the enthusiasm of indigenous lay Christians in “mission territories” compared to the proverbial West.

  2. Peter permalink
    August 5, 2014 6:56 pm

    Eh. My real question would be if there were any women on the missionary’s “parish council.”

    I think that the answer to that would reveal the REAL ideological content of this “joke.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      August 6, 2014 6:48 am

      Okay, I’ll bite: why?

      • Peter permalink
        August 6, 2014 7:12 am

        Because having a “parish council” in New Guinea sounds like it could be a ridiculous importation of western liberal democratic inspired ideas of “participation” by the laity.

        Well not just in New Guinea; anywhere. I have no idea who the council is in my parish, and that very fact makes me suspect of the whole institution. At least in the days of “the monarchy of the pastor”…I know who my pastor is.

        But then again maybe not in New Guinea IF it was based on some sort of “tribal elders” precedent that already existed there. But that wouldn’t include women. If it included women, I’d suspect this was a priest trying to make good little American Methodists of his people as has already been done to most Catholics the US and Western Europe.

        Evangelization is supposed to be about spreading the faith. Not colonializing with modern western enlightenment cultural values that are not essential to it (as plainly demonstrated by our own history).

  3. dismasdolben permalink
    August 6, 2014 7:10 am

    Perhaps, David, it’s because “Peter” knows that New Guiinea, like Egypt, like India–like most of the places outside of the United States where I’ve lived–is a place where women have very few rights, and where the Catholic Church tries too hard to accomodate unjust cultural norms.

  4. Ronald King permalink
    August 6, 2014 11:17 am

    If the status of women is raised through contact with the Church then that is a sign that evangelization is a positive influence. Raising the status of women is a sign that men are integrating values more closely aligned to a more enlightened perspective.
    Naked without being self conscious sounds good to me.

  5. Melody permalink
    August 6, 2014 4:02 pm

    I laughed when I read this story; my immediate thought was that the missionary priest in this remote area apparently had a lot more confidence in his parishioners than the priest living in the USA. The role of women in the Church wasn’t mentioned. But since other people brought it up, I’ll go there. Why would it be a Methodist (but not Catholic) characteristic to recognize and include women? This has a Christian basis, you know, “…neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…” etc. I agree with Ronald that, “If the status of women is raised through contact with the Church then that is a sign that evangelization is a positive influence.”

    • Peter permalink
      August 6, 2014 6:29 pm

      Because that’s just not traditional Christianity. Setting up a “parish council” with women in mission territory? St Francis Xavier would be appalled.

  6. Kurt permalink
    August 8, 2014 10:07 am

    For me, I have a great admiration for good American Methodists.

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