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Review of India: The Lotus and the Cross

“I prefer not to be called Roman Catholic; I prefer to be called Indian Catholic.”

This, one of the opening lines from Vishnu Mathur’s India: The Lotus and the Cross, nicely sets a tone for what follows. From rural village to urban streets, from a Pontifical university in Pune to an addiction clinic in Mumbai, from Jesuit priest to Hindu social worker, this new documentary explores the related questions of inculturation and Catholic identity in and around present-day Goa.

One interviewee defines inculturation as a process of “adoption and adaptation”—that is, looking to Hindu, Buddhist and tribal religions to enrich the faith of Indian Catholics. Although this ‘inculturation movement’ gained momentum in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the movement’s leaders also see it as a continuation and intensification what has been happening since the first century CE, when Christianity first reached Indian shores. Even after the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in the fifteenth century, for example, crosses replaced holy tulsi plants in front of Catholic households . . . but the distinctively Indian devotion to these icons remained much the same. Indeed, in some of the liturgies featured in Mathur’s film, worshippers receive an auspicious kum-kum mark on the forehead on the way into chapel, receive sweet prasadam after holy communion, and worship in the midst of a rich iconography that can include a sari-bedecked virgin Mary and the sacred Sanskrit symbol om. Through its wide array of images and interviews, the film reveals an Indian society increasingly impacted by Catholic schools and institutions, as well as a Catholic tradition increasingly transformed by Indian culture and religion.

Vishnu Mathur has, perhaps wisely, avoided some of the difficult questions raised by the inculturation movement among Hindus and Christians alike—although filmed in 2002, for example, there is no evidence of the sometimes critical views of Rome expressed in Dominus Iesus and the Asian Synod at the turn of the century. Instead, India: The Lotus and the Cross simply offers one simple, direct and compelling portrait of a Christianity still largely unfamiliar in the West, a Christianity and a Catholicism with a distinctively Indian face.

India: The Lotus and the Cross will be showing on Vision TV in two segments: at 10 p.m. on January 11 and at 10 p.m. on January 18.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Review of India: The Lotus and the Cross
A documentary film by Vishnu Mathur
By Reid B. Locklin, Assistant Professor, Christianity and Culture