I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.
My mother was devout. My father less so. His rebellious nature often interfered with his capacity to follow what he called the constricting dogma of an out of date Papal system that made itself wealthy on the backs of the poor.
I often thought my father had a Robin Hood complex. He liked the idea of taking from the rich to give to the poor. A lot.
As a child, we lived in Calgary before moving to Europe where I spent my pre-teens to twenties. In fact, we live in the same neighbourhood where I once lived. The school where I attended grades 2 and 3 is just down the street from our home. The house we lived in when I was a child is not too far away on the other side of the school.
As children, my sister Anne and I, would walk from home to school together.
While the walk wasn’t far, I remember constantly feeling at risk. It felt like a treacherous walk. Not because we had to cross major traffic routes or anything. It was all because our route took us past ‘the Protestant school’. That’s what it was called back then before diversity embedded itself in our culture and the School Board names changed to “Public” and “Separate” (which is what the Catholic system is now called).
To get to our school Anne and I had two options. Stay on the sidewalk and go the long way around or, cut through the ‘Protestant School’ playground.
On the days when we felt daring, we would cut across the Protestant schoolyard which adjoined our school’s playground. Inevitably, our walk included suffering through the insults and slurs flung at us for being ‘Catholic’ kids.
I could never figure it out. Why would the fact we were Roman Catholic cause kids who didn’t even know us to pick on us?
My mother, ever the peace-maker, told us to turn the other cheek. To not retaliate. To not respond. To just keep walking.
And so we did.
I’d love to tell you there was some seminal moment when an encounter on that shared field of our playful youth caused our Catholic roots to dig into the Protestant ground where together, we planted seeds of harmony, but I don’t recall that ever happening. I don’t actually remember ever speaking to one of ‘those kids’ who was not of the same faith but looked just the same as us. We were told not to. They were ‘the Protestant kids’ and thus, the distance between us too great to cross.
About the only time we did flex our Roman Catholic muscles was on those days when our school was not in session because of a Saint’s holiday. On those mornings, from the safety of our second floor bedroom my sister and I would lean out the window and make fun of the ‘Protestant’ kids walking off to school. Though we could often not name the Saint whose memory gave us the day off, we took great delight in rubbing our bonus days into those who did not share the benefit of multiple Saints’ holidays throughout the year.
Many years have passed since those days of fearing walking through a playground of kids of another faith. And still, I can remember how scary it felt to walk through their midst. I can still remember the feelings of feeling different, not fitting in, being called out because, while we worshipped the same God, our way of worship was different.
And I wonder, in the aftermath of Brussels, what have we learned?
How ridiculed, isolated, marginalized and traumatized must some young man be to believe his legacy of passing through this life is best expressed by leaving a path of destruction in the wake of blowing himself up?
And I fear, not much has changed since I quite walking across that childhood playground, except the distance between us has lengthened pulling us further away from finding common ground in our humanity.
As the death toll continues to climb I pray we find the grace to put down our words of condemnation, our weapons of mass destruction and killing ways. In lowering our arms, I pray that we open our eyes and minds and hearts to see that no matter the damage we have done to one another, in our shared human condition we have the power to heal when we choose to walk in peace.