Benedictine Theology Professor Leads Pilgrimage to India

Church's Rich Heritage is on Display in India - from The Leaven

  • Friday, August 16, 2013

ATCHISON — “To experience India is in some ways to experience the history of humanity itself,” said Dr. Matthew Ramage. “It is one of, if not the, oldest civilizations on our planet.”

Ramage is a professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, and he led a pilgrimage to India from May 18 to June 14.  

“India exemplifies in a way like no other place the incredibly rich heritage of the world’s religions, and, in particular, the heritage of Catholicism,” said Ramage. The Indian subcontinent is home to three major Catholic rites, or traditions: Roman Catholicism, Syro-Malabar Catholicism, and Syro- Malankara Catholicism.

The vast majority of American Catholics are Roman, or Latin, rite, but the Catholic Church is actually comprised of six rites: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian (also called Coptic), Armenian, Antiochene and Chaldean. That means that Catholics practicing any of these rites are fully equal in dignity.

The “Syro” part of Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara is a reference to the traditions passed down from the church founded in Syria, Ramage said.

Because Christ didn’t leave a field manual on how to celebrate the sacraments, the apostles adapted and drew from the local cultures in order to evangelize, said Ramage. 

For instance, in India, the cross looks like the ones hanging in American churches except for one thing — it is planted atop a lotus flower. The lotus flower, the national flower of India, appears frequently in Hindu creation myths, said Ramage. 

This doesn’t mean that the Indian Catholics endorse Hinduism — rather, they see the cross of Christ embracing all of creation. 

Anne Faucett, director of international admissions and retention for Benedictine College, is a Midwestern Roman Catholic who had never experienced another rite before. 

“It was different,” she admitted. 

For example, “everything was sung,” said Faucett. And Ramage described the chanting as “beautiful,” “otherworldly,” but also “foreign.”


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