People, look East: “The shape of the church worldwide now depends more on India than on Ireland”

From Fr. Raymond de Souza:

On Monday night, I was honoured to host the senior Catholic prelate from India, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, in Mississauga, Ont. On Tuesday morning, a new archbishop — Christian Lépine — was announced for Montreal. In the 21st century, what will be more important for global Christianity — Mumbai and Mississauga, or Montreal? To even ask the question demonstrates how the tectonic plates of the universal Church are shifting.

Christians in India are only 2.3% of the total population, Catholics accounting for 1.8%. But as Cardinal Gracias likes to recall, Pope Benedict told him that 1.8% of more than 1 billion people means that the Catholic Church in India is much larger than it is in many European countries. Indeed, there are far more Catholics in India than in Canada.

The shape of the Christian church worldwide depends today more on India than on Ireland, and what is going on in Kerala is far more important than whoever is appointed to Canterbury. Irish Catholicism and the Church of England have a noble heritage, but their best days now belong to history. What goes on there bears watching for the sake of the souls, of course, but in terms of providing a creative impetus for the Gospel throughout the world, those islands are exhausted.

The island of Montreal is in a similar situation. The appointment of a new archbishop is important for Montreal as a whole, not just its Catholic population. Archbishop Lépine’s appointment to Quebec’s senior ecclesial post, only six months after he was ordained an auxiliary bishop, is a dramatic break with the usual practice. The Holy See evidently thought that the usual practice in Montreal needed to be dramatically broken.

It was said of Mackenzie King, our longest-serving prime minister, that he would never take a major decision without first consulting with the archbishop of Montreal, and the president of the Royal Bank. Perhaps apocryphal, the story nevertheless identified the sources of cultural influence in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. That was a long time ago, when Mumbai was still called Bombay, and Mississauga was mostly empty fields.

There on Monday, and on Sunday in Brampton, hundreds of Catholics of Indian origin filled parishes to greet Cardinal Gracias. A man who has travelled extensively, the cardinal marvelled at the sheer number of Indians he met on this, his first visit to Canada.

It is not only that there are more Catholics at Mass in Bombay’s parishes than there would be in the whole of, say, Belgium. It is that the diaspora is a force right here in Canada. Indian priests — both Indian nationals and the sons of immigrants — are manning many Canadian parishes. And in places like Mississauga, Indians are contributing mightily to the vitality of parish life. At the Mass the cardinal offered at the parish of Saint Francis Xavier — the patron saint of Goa — there were a few visible minorities present in the packed church: the scattered few of European stock. The Indian Church, broadly understood, now includes parts of Mississauga.

Read the rest.


  1. Once countries like Ireland exported priests and sent priests to “missions” like India
    Now, the other way around.

    Several Jesuits I know have commented on how the Indian missions of 50 years ago staffed by American Jesuits are now the source of vibrant home grown Jesuit vocations.

    This reminds me to say a prayer of thanks to so many holy men and woman who “brought Christ” and were Christ’s presence in India for many years . The Lord took care of the rest :)

  2. The problem I have with this is saying that Ireland’s best days are behind it.Where’s the gratitude for educating and evangelising in areas of India that no one ever could or would?Ireland would still be what it was before in terms of the faith had the Church here not been so corrupt.I’m a Church going Catholic,but the sheer scale of the things that the Church got wrong here through individual members and collective irresponsibility is baffling to me as a young man.The tone sums up how many people here feel about the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Irish people,we did more for it than any other nation in history and there seems to be general disinterest in Rome at the falling away of the faith here,as if our worth ceased at the same time as our usefullness.Even his holiness Pope Benedict decided against visiting here as part of the Eucharistic Congress.India,China and others may be the places where the faith is rising fastest,but if the Church wants it to rise faster and with more depth perhaps it should look for help in the Western country which has done that job better than any other and in which the people are desperate to trust in their Church again.For the record,I trust the Church but unfortunately much of my parents’ generation are wary after the way the scandals betrayed so many devout people’s trust.These are very bleak times for Ireland and without the Church or any sense of hope it is no surprise that the suicide rate spirals every year.

  3. Fiergenholt says:


    To put all of this in some type of perspective, one wag once commented that 50% of all of the priests in Florida are Irish and 50% of those are either illegal immigrants themselves or sons of illegal immigrants!

    That would not surprise me at all. The problem is that I do not know why or how that is true.

    What is true is that all of the “hot-air” about illegal immigrants is directed at Latinos. Many folks also are ignorant of the fact that Florida houses a surprisingly large Canadian ex-patriot community as well — who knows how many of them are here residing there illegally.

  4. I’m not sure placing one’s beliefs in the hands – or words – of wags is the best way to go.

    You might want to check your facts on Canadians in Florida. Florida does in fact house a surprisingly large Canadian ex-patriot community but the economic benefit is enjoyed by Florida, as Governor Rick Scott pointed out in June 2011:

    For more on how Canada is Florida’s largest economic partner, look here:

    That said, the attraction of The Sunshine State when you’re shivering at 30 below is beyond description :-)

    God bless

  5. Deacon Norb says:

    Brother Don:

    This goes back almost 15 years or so — a year after that horrible hurricane leveled Homestead. I had an elderly widowed aunt who lived in a trailer-park in Okeechobee so I combined a few days visit as her guest with visits to the ‘Glades and to Key West.

    That Sunday I went to the downtown parish church — Sacred Heart, I think. The mass that fit my schedule was the Francophone one although I did not realize it until I arrived and saw the Missalettes. My skill in Spanish and Latin saved me from being a mumbling idiot.

    One of the last times I was in your state was a funeral — at St. Matthew Winter Haven — for a deacon of theirs who was formation classmate of mine.

    Only the very best of blessings!

  6. Brother Norb, I should make it clear that I’m at the Canadian (Ontario) end of the thermometer, not the Floridian. But hey – it’s mid-50′s Fahrenheit here today and for us that’s almost shorts weather!

    Remain blessed – and warm!


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