Recently, I had brought my vehicle to a car wash. As I passed through the various stages of wash, rinse and dry, I encountered a young Asian-Indian man who approached me. He asked for my prayers because his family is Hindu and he became Catholic. Now his family shuns him because they disapprove of his becoming Christian. I assured this courageous fellow that I would indeed keep him in my prayers. What a price he paid for embracing a faith that many of us just take for granted. The experience of this former Hindu turned Christian Catholic adult is had by many who convert to Catholicism from other faiths. It is a perfect example of xenophobia, which is not only a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners but of anything foreign or strange, including religions with which we are not familiar. The paradox in the case of the former Hindu family’s displeasure with their fallen away son is that having taught Hinduism in World Religions courses, I know that one tenet of the faith is that there are many paths which lead to attaining liberation of the self and union with the supreme spirit or God, each of which is called a “yoga.” One such path is “Bhakti Yoga.” This is the way to God through love. Is this not comparable to the Way of the Lord Jesus? One could argue that the central message of Jesus’ preaching and the kerygma of the early Church is one must love God and neighbor, the self and even enemies in order to attain beatitude with God. In fact, love is the Law of the Gospel, the center of freedom and tantamount to the core teaching of Bhakti Yoga, in other words, the way to union with God is through love.
Several Hindu families in my former pastorates that had schools opted to enroll their children there even though they would be required to take Catholic religion classes. When I asked the parents if they had a problem with this, I was often told: “Father, if what they learn draws them closer to God, all the better.”
About 12 years ago, I officiated over a wedding between a Catholic groom and a Hindu bride. At the request of the bride’s family, a Hindu priest first conducted a traditional wedding custom that consisted of placing a fire on the altar and leading the couple around the altar seven times. Upon completion of this rite, I presided over theexchange of vows and rings. At the reception, I did not detect any anti-Catholic sentiment nor did the Catholic groom feel shunned by his Hindu in-laws. To the contrary, having compared and contrasted the perennial message of Jesus’ teaching with the core doctrine of Bhakti
Yoga, I found that people were complimentary toward me, and told me how they enjoyed the wedding immensely. It was obvious to me that these guests were both open-minded and educated.
Imagine my shock, then, when the young man at the car wash told me of his plight. Just as there are xenophobes among Catholics, so, too, do these exist in other faiths.
The young Asian-Indian at the car wash suffered persecution from his own family simply because they had a stereotyped understanding of Catholicism rooted in ignorance which expressed itself through disdain for the faith and their son who embraced it. Would that somebody could instruct them on what we believe and how this is similar to Bhakti Yoga. Meanwhile, there is someone suffering from a painful, emotional scar at being shunned and estranged all because he found peace and fulfilment by converting to Christianity, in particular, Catholicism.
Indeed, his response to the pain inflicted by xenophobic parents has not been one of violence. He did not ask me to curse his family. He did not renounce his faith and return to Hinduism to please his parents. Instead, the young man asked for prayers. I was humbled by this neophyte to the Catholic faith. I was truly moved by his mature and Christian response to bigotry, hatred and narrowmindedness.
If we are faithful to Jesus and our God-given mission, Jesus assures us that he will remain with us always. In fact, this same Jesus promises that whoever believes in him, even if he should die, will live forever. I repeated these words to the young man as I left the car wash. And I ask you to join me in praying for him. Xenophobia is not limited to former Hindus. It yields its ugly head whenever people are threatened by something foreign or unfamiliar. Like any form of prejudice, it often results in pejorative comments, violent clashes and even estrangements. But we cannot abandon hope because as the young man at the car wash reminded me, we can always pray: for perseverance, for the conversion of stony hearts, for the acceptance of who we are as we are.