As I went on with life at a secular university, I began to question if institutional religion had anything to offer me, Andrea Dsouza writes. Pixabay

Speaking Out: Can the institutional church speak to the unique way I experience God?

By  Andrea Dsouza, Speaking Out
  • October 18, 2018

I grew up far away from my current home in Vancouver. My parents, Mauro and Gertrude Dsouza, made their home in Bangalore, India, and my childhood was filled with storybooks, swimming pools, piano classes and ballet lessons. Not to forget about school! 

Looking back, it seems to me that being Catholic meant that I got dressed up, sang in church on Sundays and had a kind attitude towards the poor. All in all, it was a safe bubble of existence.

The first time my Catholic faith was challenged was about four years ago, just months after my family had arrived in Canada. I was a bright-eyed 18-year-old, excited and nervous about building a new life in this alien land. One day I met my cousin’s wife over coffee. 

After we chatted about family, relationships, school and everything in between, she went on to share her thoughts and feelings about the Catholic Church. I remained silent as she explained why the Catholic Church was wrong about what it taught and how its many atrocities stand as a testimony against it. 

As I went home that day I found myself struggling with the human brokenness within the Church and began to question how something that was initiated by Christ could be such a poor reflection of Him. As I went on with life at a secular university, I began to question if institutional religion had anything to offer me. 

It seemed to me that there was a kinder, more inclusive language around a Jesus spirituality rather than this Catholic faith and tradition. After all, could the conservative Catholic Church speak to the unique ways in which I experienced God, or was the Church trying to fit me into a mould as a docile, subservient member of its faithful?

I came to the University of British Columbia in the hopes of studying economics, but that changed after taking a course in First Nations and Indigenous Studies. 

Decolonization and the Church are words that do not normally go together and I am still learning about what it means to stand in this tension. 

In difficult moments, it is Jesus who consoles me and I still struggle, feeling like I belong to a community where people question the way power, privilege and pride intersect in a way that mars the face of Jesus. 

The questions and doubts arise and float away. The answers are hard to find because the questions are challenging ones. But as a friend of mine who is preparing to be a priest pointed out, I am not alone. 

Historically, St. Teresa of Àvila offered dissent and challenged the Church, and asked difficult questions. Now, she is considered a Doctor of the Church. Perhaps, this will provide some solace to this international student searching for belonging, identity and a sense of home.

(Dsouza, 22, is a fourth-year First Nations and Indigenous studies student at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C.)

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