After more than a thousand years of almost unchanged traditions, the Roman Catholic Church has hinged its identity on its ability to survive centuries of cultural dynamics and popular beliefs – something no other institution can brag about,
With this in mind, I decided to start my church crawling from a Catholic Church – St. Leo’s in Ikeja, Lagos.
You see, I was born and raised a catholic –even attended a catholic secondary school in the east- and I have come to see conservative-ness as the only way of life in a catholic church, nothing less, nothing more.
Yes, many associate the word boring, routine and predictable when describing catholic churches, and it is mostly true. St. Leo’s church was all that, and some more.
The mass began as usual with the solemnity and the occasional dabbling into Latin –which for a first timer, would be reminiscent of a film set in medieval times.
The Latin part of the mass was generally sung by a choir composed of children and a handful of adults.
Once or twice, the choir raised the bar but then, like a first time weight lifter, allowed the bar to come crashing down – except the organist who flowed near perfectly as the choir fuddled to make a mark. Needless to say, the mass was a gigantic bore.
But the boring nature of the mass at St. Leo wasn’t the most striking thing about the church.
No, it isn’t.
Faced with a fast changing world where liberal ideology is waging a war against long standing beliefs, the Catholic Church, in the last few years, has made moves to be more inclusive and open to other ways of life, while at the same time trying to retain its core values and essence that has ensured survival and expansion for more than a millennium of persecution and changing cultural practices.
The Catholic Church is constantly trying to be itself and still be able to make space for other values. It simply means that the church is faced with severe opposition and at times, appears to be confused as conservative and liberal elements cannot actively stay in the same compound.
But St. Leo’s church takes the level of confusion to a whole new level. It would appear that the Lagos church is at best schizophrenic and at worst, unsure of its identity. I have been to quite a few Catholic Churches and I have seen them cling to the traditions of the church so fiercely –even though some slight elements exist.
St. Leo’s church, existing in a fast paced conurbation, appears to be having an attack of what to be and what not to be, what to accept and what not to. Perhaps this identity crisis has rubbed off on its members as most appeared to be at the church just for the sake of being at the church as the mass followed without a spiritual connection.
Perhaps, the problem is that it has made so much space for other values that it cannot effectively readjust.
St. Leo’s is a church more than willing to make compromises, to embrace modernity, and yet retain the traditional values of the universal Catholic Church. Thus creating a institution that is not just confused about who and what it is, but also ready to place its original goal -which is shepherding the flocks- on a second rung for whatever reasons.
Did I describe how surprisingly fashionable parishioners at St. Leo’s are?
I even spotted a low cut, chest baring, blouse worn on a pair of really tight leggings.