Clare Myers, Staff Writer
You would think the promise of chai tea would have lured them to the event. But three minutes before the scheduled beginning of a panel discussion hosted by the Indian Film and Culture Club (IFCC), the room was nearly empty. The refreshments sat untouched, and just a handful of students had trickled in.
“Is this where they’re having the panel?” one asked uncertainly.
This scarcity of attendees was puzzling. Many students, after all, had expressed interest in the topic, “The Catholic Church in India.” The panelists included prominent members of the Indian community here in Dallas. And who doesn’t like (free) chai tea?
Event planners speculated as to why there were so many no-shows. Was it the time, 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon? It was during that strange time between the end of classes and TGIT when the campus is eerily empty. Was it the location, tucked away in the upstairs Haggar dining room? Was it the result of a sudden surge of anti-Indian sentiment amongst University of Dallas students angry that IFCC had not hosted one of its film events, complete with free Indian food, in a while? Something, somewhere, must have gone wrong.
But then, something, somewhere, went right.
The IFCC president, junior Alex Taylor, made a last-minute decision to change the layout of the event, grouping a few tables together and seating panelists and attendees alike around them. A few more students pulled up chairs as Fr. Thomas Esposito introduced the panelists to start off what became a fascinating discussion.
The more informal setting allowed the participants to feel more comfortable asking questions, and the presentations felt like roundtable discussions. Dr. John Norris provided a background of the development of different rites in the Church (of which, I learned, there are 22). Fr. Sebastian Kaniampadickal of St. Thomas the Apostle Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Garland opened up the floor for questions after only a few minutes of introducing his rite, leaving everyone at the table free to ask about anything that piqued their interest. Roy Varghese, a prolific author from the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, did the same after a presentation on his own rite.
Prompted by questions from students and interchange between panelists, the discussion was lively and covered a wide range of subjects. I found out, for instance, that in the Indian Rite churches, children receive Communion as soon as they are physically able, with newly baptized babies receiving a drop of the Blood of Christ on their tongues. Protestantism in India came up, along with the use of the vernacular during Mass, the influences of Hinduism on Indian Catholicism and the challenges of being a member of an Eastern Rite church located in the West.
Most interesting to me, however, was when the conversation turned to the way in which the Indian Rite and the Latin Rite churches complement each other. The contrast between the two is a product of their growth in very different cultures; the Latin Rite is very much flavored with western rationalism, while the Indian Rite is steeped in a more mystical sense of the sacred. Coming from a western background, we stand to gain much from the interplay of tradition in this exchange.
What UD students missed when they missed out on this panel discussion was more than chai tea. They missed the chance to meet some truly fascinating people and learn about an extremely rich culture that is very different from their own. The different rites do not have to exist completely separate from each other. Rather, they augment each other, bringing out different aspects of the faith and making for a richer Catholic spirituality. UD’s focus on the western tradition often leaves a gap in the campus culture right where education about the eastern tradition should be. We cannot hide in the Bubble and forget that we live in a very global society and that there is much to be learned from different cultures. Both guest speakers extended invitations to attend Mass at their respective churches to continue the dialogue between the UD community and the local Indian community – deepening a relationship that will, hopefully, continue to grow.