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.