No topic is out of bounds for Chimamanda Adichie.
Taking after the likes of Nadine Gordimer and Chinua Achebe, Adichie writes essays that are not only elegant and finely wrought but that push readers to think and ask questions.
Her essays on same sex love, feminism, fashion, and depression have inspired readers and ignited heated and meaningful debates.
This time around, Adichie takes on Catholicism. In an essay titled “Raised Catholic”—posted on The Atlantic— she reflects on Pope Francis and the significance of Catholicism in her life.
This is certainly a first for Adichie. Aside from a post on her blog about tithe [here], Adichie has not said a lot about religion, at least not so openly.
The essay opens up a side of Adichie that many of her fans and readers have not seen before. It chronicles her unquestioning love for the church, the weakening of her faith, and how Pope Francis has inspired her to consider rekindling her faith.
On Church and Childhood:
As a child, I loved Mass, its swirl of music and rituals. My family went every Sunday to St. Peter’s, the Catholic chapel at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. It was full of perfumed people: gold pendants at women’s throats, their headscarves flared out like the wings of giant butterflies; men’s caftans crisply starched; children in frilly socks and uncomfortable clothes. Mass was as much social as spiritual—an occasion to greet and gossip, to see and be seen, and to leave consoled. I loved watching the priests sweep past, all certainty and majestic robes, behind the sober Mass-servers holding candles. The choir sang in Igbo and English, each song a little plot of joy. I loved the smoky smells, the standing and sitting and kneeling, the shiny metal chalice raised high in air charged with magic and ringing bells. The words of the liturgy were poetry.
Years of Skepticism
My teenage years brought a restless, searching skepticism…I was full of questions, in a church that did not encourage questions. I turned to books to mend the holes in the fabric of my faith…Gradually, the rites of Mass began to lose their sheen. It suddenly seemed arid and mechanical that the priests always read from a book. I saw how close to gaudy melodrama the majesties of Catholic rituals could be. I recoiled at how quick the Church was to ostracize and humiliate, how the threat of punishment always hovered, like a hard fist, ready to strike. The family of a man I knew was refused a Catholic funeral when he died—because he owed church dues.
I was alienated by the Church’s emphasis on money-collection, the swaggering power of priests, the heaving gap between doctrine and the lived lives of people. Here was a Church afraid of itself, of looking inward, which instead basked in hollow certainties.
Pope Francis Inspires Me
Pope Francis inspires me. Not because of his much-touted humility—other popes who went along with papal pomp might merely have been tradition-compliant rather than lacking in humility—but because of his humanity. For the head of a religious institution that has historically traded in dispensing judgment to publicly say “Who am I to judge?” is a symbolic revolution. This is Pope Francis’s abiding achievement: He has changed the tone of the Church. I know of individual priests who show compassion and those who do not, but I have never thought of compassion as a tenet of the Catholic Church. Until Pope Francis. Because of him, I recently went to Mass, having not been for some years…My skepticism softened a little.
Read full essay HERE.
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