I’ve been dropping posters off lately. I’ve given them to some businesses and to almost every local Catholic church, in order to spread the word about an upcoming nativity play.
I went to the French church of St. Joachim, and they accepted a poster. I went to a Portuguese church, a Polish church, a Korean church, a Ukrainian church and an Italian church too. The Basilica put up both of the posters I gave them. That was nice. As a matter of fact, I met with no refusals, with one exception.
The French parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Paroisse Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin,” refused to put up a poster. I spoke with Caroline Maillet-Rao, who is their “agente de pastorale,” and she looked at the poster, and asked if the performance would be in English. I said yes.
She looked at it and then said that the poster was in English. (It was.) She said that in their foyer area, they did not put up posters if they were in English. She asked me in a charming way if I was okay with that.
I said that no, I was not okay with that, and that it was a disgrace to refuse to display an 11×17 inch poster for two weeks because it was written in English. I said that it was a Catholic event, and was dedicated to Pope John Paul II.
A man who was seated nearby (who looked like he was hanging around in order to shoot the breeze, en français) was apparently eavesdropping. He jumped into the conversation, exclaiming with gusto that I must remember the importance of preserving the French culture.
Of course. I forgot.
I thought that we were Catholics first. I thought that one of the beautiful things about Catholicism was that it united people who had different languages and cultural backgrounds.
It is in that context that it makes perfect sense for the Italian saint, Tommaso d’Aquino, to have his name written in French and put onto the outside of this church.
Catholics were sharing long before social media came along.
But really, how can any cultural group expect to preserve itself by a process of rejecting the things around it which are legitimate and good? How misguided! The proper way to expand and preserve your culture is to engage with those outside it and show them what you have to offer. Heritage Days, for example, is an opportunity to showcase different aspects of numerous cultures.
Draw people in to your culture by showing them the handicrafts and the traditional dancing. Draw people in by highlighting your accomplishments in art, architecture and science. Draw people in with your food and your drink and your hospitality. Play the music. Create fans of your culture who are within and outside it.
That’s how you do it. The proper way to maintain your culture is to cherish it and celebrate it and share it. It is the only legitimate way.
You will not manage to preserve your culture with hostility and suspicion towards all those who do not understand or appreciate your culture. I am in favour of the preservation of all that is good in any given culture — without saying that all cultures are equally good — as was Karol Wojtyla. It is ironic that the poster for a play dedicated to someone who was a champion of preservation of culture is rejected in the name of preserving culture.
Rejecting a poster written in English will not advance the French culture.
Consider how it could have been handled. The conversation could have gone entirely differently. What if she had asked me where I was from, and what if she had asked me about the nativity play? We might have begun to chat. What if she had asked me if I had any French background? I would have told her that my father’s first language was French. In other words, we could have had a very friendly chat, and I would have been proud to tell her of my French ancestry — all those Clements and Muises and Surrettes.
By the time we were done, I might have wanted to dust off my book of French irregular verbs.
That’s how you expand, strengthen and preserve your culture.
In the alternative, she could have accepted the poster and said, “Do you know what would be really lovely? If you could create another poster, the same, but with text in French, then it would really appeal to many of our parishioners, and we could hang both, side by side. Would that be possible?” In the face of such a request, who knows what would have happened? It may have led to a long-term collaboration.
But such was not to be, and so I write about the only Catholic parish that refused to accept a poster, on the grounds that it was written in English.
Regardez, mon Dieu!