Sunday, November 15, 2009

Great Sinners Serving The Great Savior

For a raucous group seemingly inured to all manner of criticism, this one must have really stung. Radio Vatican the other day accused the Maoists and their supporters of effectively blocking the process of democratization in Nepal. Well, it was actually the Apostolic Vicar of Nepal, Bishop Anthony Sharma, who made that charge in an interview with the Pope’s mouthpiece.
Look at it this way. If the Maoists feel they deserve the eternal gratitude of any particular quarter, it is surely from the church. Without our ex-rebels, Nepal would still be the world’s only Hindu kingdom and one of the six countries so impenetrable for the Lord’s word.
At a minimum, the Capuchin friars, whom Prithvi Narayan Shah expelled from his nascent kingdom, have been avenged. The poor souls tried hard to portray the Gorkhali conquest of Kathmandu valley as an unmitigated genocide and their exodus the upshot. What they left unsaid was that Prithvi Narayan was guided by the same religious sensitivities that had led Lhasa to expel the members of the Catholic order to the realm of the Mallas years earlier.
And what a struggle it had been to get back in. After the advent of modernity in 1951, the palace let men of the cloth educate and alleviate Nepalis. But the soul was a no-go area. Any progress towards that area was so easily construed as an unwarranted quest for unnatural intimacy. (The implications were clear long before the pedophilia scandal rocked sections of the clergy elsewhere.)
The countless students who graduated over the decades spread across the walks of life but never got close to making policy or decisions. Those few who end up in the inner palace circle actually helped tighten the lid.
All that was supposed to have changed with the 1990 democratization. But new leadership deftly placed a comma in the right place in the constitution and kept the heathens going with greater gusto. With the Reds on the rise, it was easy for successive governments to turn a blind eye to conversion. But how far could that go when the new king wore his religion so prominently on his sleeve? You could not inspire an uprising against a depraved state by evoking the Good Lord. In Nepal’s case, Mao had to become the savior.
We don’t know for sure why the Maoist leaders chose Switzerland for their only collective visit abroad (not counting India, of course) after the fall of the monarchy. Rumors that it was payback time for the final offensive against the Hindu state and the king – yes, in that order – refuse to die. In fairness, the church wasn’t the only purported contributor to such a kitty. But it was certainly among those who should have had a long-term interest in a secular Nepal regardless of how it progressed towards sustainable statehood.
Instead, the church talks of democracy. Pope Benedict XVI’s record shows that he is an opponent of certain types of liberation theology. But can the salvation wrought by Christ really be examined outside the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes? Sure, the Maoists’ agitation has inconvenienced most Nepalis, both the faithful and faithless. But what is the point of speaking out, especially when forthrightness has not always been the church’s forte.
Vatican Radio may have been among the first to publicize how Jews and others were being rounded up in ghettos under Hitler. But silence stood out as the most prominent feature when an entire group of people was actually being eliminated.
Some people jailed for proselytizing during the Panchayat years have become strategic thinkers They should know how a sprightly a springboard Nepal could become in a vast swathe in such an expansive neighborhood. In Tashilhumpo, Scotsman George Bogle was struck by the affinity between Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism, while Prithvi Narayan was admonishing the Panchen Lama against hobnobbing with the feringhies. A free Tibet might open the opportunity to liberate so many more souls.
In India, the northeastern tribes have been a success story. But there are millions more, backward and oppressed, anxious for the Good News. The Maoists, to be sure, will not let anyone lead their flock astray. But can that reality alone diminish their redeeming value?