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Misplaced Pride

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

When I started school at P.S. 33 in the Bronx, I had a tough time responding to the question, “What are you?” The answer expected was my “nationality.” (It was unacceptable, by the way, to say “American.”)

Both my parents were born in Manhattan, my mother of Irish descent (and Catholic), my father of German descent (and Jewish). I did not have a simple answer.

As a priest, when I used to visit my Spanish-speaking Salvadoran compadres and their families in New York City, my three-year-old godson was the only one who spoke to me in English! Early on, he was choosing his identity.

Pastoral work with inner-city Hispanic youth surely taught me how important it is to know who you are and to take pride in your roots.

Now, here is the rub! Just how much pride in one’s roots is good? It is the Goldilocks problem. Too little pride is bad; it starves self-confidence and cripples our lives. Too much pride is bad; it exaggerates our importance and can destroy our well-being and our neighbor’s too.

In the world our Association serves, balance in national or religious pride is part of the solution of many problems.

Eritreans are proud of their identity and heritage, as are the other peoples of Ethiopia, but the war for independence and rights went on for 30 years.

The peoples of the former Soviet Union are proud of their ethnic roots, but the union has dissolved into several republics, and many have internal conflicts among their peoples. Even when nationality is the same, e.g. Ukrainian, religious differences trigger division.

India is organized into national states. In Kerala, the Malayalam people are Hindu, Christian and Muslim. The Christians are divided into Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The Catholics are separated into Malabar, Malankara and Latin.

The Kurds in Iraq want to form a separate country. Armenians and Azeris fight each other in Azerbaijan. Palestinians want sovereignty and resist Israeli occupation. Lebanon is a patchwork of feuding Christian, Muslim and Druze clans.

Sometimes what is wrong is not too much or too little pride in one’s roots; it is that the pride is too superficial and shallow. We do not really know our roots profoundly. If we go down deeper, below the levels of political division, law, language, customs, and all the other obstacles that cause dissension, we reach common ground.

St. Paul put it to the Galatian Christians this way (Gal 3:26-28):

For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus…. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

What a world it would be, if only all peoples, whether Christian or not, could be fiercely proud of being made in the image and likeness of the one God, of being sons and daughters, of being brothers and sisters!

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Cultural Identity Religious Differences