Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shrines on the Streeets

Historically Christian Europe (at least the Catholic parts) and Shinto/Buddhist Japan share something interesting in common -- small shrines on or above the streets, as well as in unexpected rural locations.

We first noticed this in Belgium, where shrines to Mary distinguish the corners of many buildilngs. One in Brussels is right above a McDonald's sign.

Austria has them, too.

In Japan, of course, the shrines memorialize Shinto gods rather than Christian saints. But it seems to me that in both cultures these little shrines communicate a sense of the sacred at street-level, the divine in the domestic.

Given the state of religious commitment in Europe today, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to regard these shrines with sadness as largely historical curiosities. We often speak, negatively, of "cultural Catholicism," a faith inherited more than lived. This is not only a Catholic phenomenon.

In Hiroshima some years ago, I asked our Japanese friend what religion he was before he became Catholic. He had to think awhile before responding, "Probably Buddhist." The great majority (about 99%) of Japanese who are not Christians tend to be married in Shinto ceremonies and buried as Buddhists. "I think it is ceremony, not religion," Hiro said.

Shinto is an indigineous religion strongly identified with the Japanese state. Until after World War II, the emperor was considered divine. Christianity, by contrast, is very much seen as a foreign religion. But Japanese Catholics put their own delightful spin on the Church Universal. At the sign of peace during Mass, they bow to each other!

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