Of St Patrick’s Day and Other Misappropriations

As I walked down Panjim’s sunset boulevard, I noticed green placards hanging low on cheerless lampposts, screaming: ‘17/03/17!’ (Saturated with the political goings-on, I wondered what troika the Seventeen were now trying to trap after the Thirteen, by artful combinations and permutations, had already surprised everyone!) Soon the morning newspapers said it all: 17/03/17 – Happy St Patrick’s Day!

It was clear from the daily’s promotional lingo that a new festival was on the cards. Goa was being pushed to celebrate distant Ireland’s patron saint, like their diaspora does in Europe, America and Oceania. Goa wouldn’t stay aloof after having been flatteringly styled a “home to varying celebrations that have origins in various parts of the world, largely owing to its diverse base of residents”. It was the voice of globalization commanding participation.

Exploiting that trace of vanity in the Goan personality is something the secular press has always been quick to do, satisfying the business class and officialdom. Their advertorials have their own logic and propriety, usually to the detriment of a gullible population. And alas, by their thirst for sensation and spotlight, people do go all out for a flashy initiative in town, be it in business, politics or religion.

Would that be a proper response to the hijacking of Catholic dates and events by the secular world? If St Patrick’s were a religious feast in Goa, a church patio somewhere would have been abuzz; but there isn’t a single place of worship dedicated to the Irish saint. Regardless of all that, and in breach of the Lenten spirit, our youth participated heart and soul in a much publicised event – “St Patrick’s Day Live”, 7.00 p.m. onwards, at the Inox courtyard! I doubt other communities would have frolicked likewise if something that they regarded holy were involved.

At any rate, considering that Goa is used to celebrating at the drop of a hat, this outburst may seem like a storm in a teacup. However, it’s not about St Patrick’s Day alone. It is about how similar events are foisted on us through ingenious publicity; it is about how our Catholic youth fall prey to them so easily, cutting a poor figure on the social front and exposing themselves to risk on the spiritual front; and it is about how, often, and sadly, it is members of our community that are promoters of such far-out ideas.

Such initiatives smack of crass commercialization. Consider this. If for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession, it is illegal in India to use certain emblems and names that may be suggestive of State patronage; can it be licit to liberally use religious names or concepts subverting their original intent? How are St Francis Xavier or St Anthony appropriate, let us say, to a bar or tavern? And our dear St Valentine, who is the patron saint of lovers: see how dishonorably he is treated. Such absurd practices go uncontested, so commercialization has a field day.

Our lives are further made banal by the unholy alliance of commercialization and the near-total secularization of the mind. The story of Santa Claus as spun by Coca Cola speaks volumes; it is a narrative of materialism and consumerism that has chimed with all and sundry. It is a standing invitation to celebrate. With, or without Christ: that is not the question! And so it happens that the gifts of the season matter – but not The Gift! Secularization has indeed distorted the idea of divinity, if not displaced it from people’s minds; it is the opium of the people.

Yet, secularization is only the beginning. Look at Carnival. It is show business in the guise of religion and culture – simply ruinous. The powers-that-be have been portraying it conveniently as a Christian festival. For the past quarter of a century, the Church in Goa has cried herself hoarse about its pagan roots and irrelevance to Christianity. Even so, ‘secular-minded’ Catholics continue to patronise those bizarre festivities. If pagan gods Momo and Mammon have gained acceptance in modern society, there is no doubt that secularization is spiralling towards paganization.

The bottomline is that we haven’t done enough to guard the Faith; the attendant problems are a result of a deep-seated malaise within the organization. It is sad and ironic that the Church, whose philosophy once governed the nations, is herself besieged by the forces of globalization, commercialization, secularization and paganization. So the time has come for a collective realization, a genuine awareness of the gravity of the problem. This won’t be a mere storm in a tea cup but a benign tsunami that will cleanse the system, snuffing out the “smoke of Satan”. Let’s get ahead and do it prayerfully, before another St Patrick’s Day arrives.

(First published in Renovação/Renewal, 1-15 April 2017)