Bringing together non-believers …
As I mentioned in the previous post, I was raised Roman Catholic. My parents are extremely religious, and I remember being taught from a very early age common Catholic prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Acts of Faith, Hope, Contrition, etc. I didn’t think too hard about religion in general when I was younger. Being Christian in Kenya is the norm, after all. What was there to think about?
In my primary school years, I was forced to think a little more deeply about Catholicism and its place in Christianity. The primary school I attended had no official religious affiliation, but most of the kids were Protestant and thought Catholics were a little… weird. I’d occasionally get questions like, “Why do you people worship Mary?”, “Why do you pray to saints?” and “Why do you worship statues?”. One time a teacher asked me whether I was Christian or Catholic. That confused the living daylights out of me, as I’d always thought of myself as both.
All my thoughts on religion in primary school (which were not as frequent as this post may make them seem) were centered around how it was so much cooler to be Protestant. All my friends were Protestant and had Bible Study on Saturdays where they’d memorise Bible verses which they’d then recite in sing-song voices. The songs they sang at church were more upbeat and fun than the ones I was used to, complete with dance routines which they all seemed to know. They’d go off to church camp in the holidays and come back to school with super cute kids’ Bibles and impossibly bright stickers declaring how much Jesus loved them.
Everything changed when I went to a Catholic high school, where Catholicism was the norm. We were taught not so much C.R.E (Christian Religious Education) as Theology, by no less than the school chaplain himself. Everything Catholic made sense and seemed to fall into place. We didn’t worship Mary, we just paid her the respect she completely deserved, being the one woman in the entire world who God had chosen to be His mother. Praying to Saints? It made perfect sense! They were in Heaven with God and in His good books, ergo, why not ask them to intercede on our behalf? Worshipping statutes? Ridiculous! They were simply a reminder to us of the people they represented, not unlike putting a photograph of your family on your office desk to remind you of them.
Being naturally drawn to music, it was in Catholic high school that I discovered truly beautiful church music. Beautiful hymns in Latin and Spanish, English and Swahili that sounded as though the angels had deigned to come down and sing with us mere mortals. The upbeat Protestant music which I had so admired in primary school simply did not compare. While I didn’t consider myself overly religious, I was definitely at my most religious in high school, doubly so when I was singing.
Being religious was easy in high school. The chapel was beautiful and inspired meditation. The priest was always available for confession and spiritual direction. There were retreats once a year in a lovely location. Everyone around me was religious to some degree, even if they weren’t Catholic or even Christian. The word “atheism” was as far away from my mind as possible.
So what happened? Simple, really. I left the little bubble that was my high school and stepped into the Real World. I was in for a bit of a shock.
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