The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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The Catholic Church in England

Saturday, February 18, 2012
It is, perhaps, a temptation to view the Catholic Church in England as a product of the counter-reformation and reduce its scope to a history of some 450 years. However, to do so, is to do injury to the vast influence of English Catholicism’s cultural, intellectual and devotional influence, not only within the confines of these Isles but far beyond. For a real appreciation of the English Church we must gaze further back than that. Many would date the founding of the Church in England to the official Gregorian Mission of 596AD. Pope Gregory the Great entrusted Augustine of Canterbury to head a delegation to these shores with the object of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, however, as St Bede shows us in his Historia Ecclesiastica, English Christianity can be traced back until at least the second century, surviving the departure of the Roman forces and remaining until the arrival of Augustine. Indeed, it is clearly recorded that Romano-British bishops, such as Restitutus, attended the Council of Arles in 314. It would seem that the Church in England was an influential body from its very early days.  Read more

The Catholic Church in Norway

Thursday, February 16, 2012
When speaking of the Catholic Church in Norway, we soon discover that we are dealing with two rather distinct periods of time. The first stretches from 8th century until the reformation, the second from the middle of the 19th century until our days, this was when the country opened its borders to the Catholic Church and to religious life. The Protestant Reformation came to Denmark and Norway in 1537 and resulted in a rupture of the Christian faith in a region where the Catholic Church had been present in and determinant for the society for more than 500 years. For Catholics raised in Norway, this fact has always had a major impact on the feeling of identity and roots, and even for the Lutheran State Church and other Free Churches, the origin of Christianity has gradually become more popular. We will then have to say a few words of Norway's conversion to Christianity.

There are traces of missionary activity towards the Scandinavian countries from before the 9th century, maybe even earlier. For Norway’s part, the conversion from paganism rooted in the Norse mythology to the Christian faith accelerated in a period when Norway also began to consolidate to become one Kingdom. But it wasn’t until the patron of Norway, Saint Olav, began his conversion of the people that the Christian faith began to get a foothold in the country. Olav Haraldson, which was his full name, had converted to Christianity in his youth, and he got baptised at Rouen in Normandy in France after having stayed there one winter. In 1015, he returned to Norway, claiming the throne of Norway. He had a diplomatic nature, and offered the petty kings and the aristocracy to be liberated from their pagan beliefs (as well as accepting him as king) or get liberated of their heads. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many chose the first alternative.

But turning Norway into one kingdom could not be achieved without battles, and during the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 he was killed. But his death also became the decisive factor for achieving what he had struggled for during his life. After his death, people soon considered him to be a saint, miracles happened at his grave, and he was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae -Norway's Eternal King. This was the beginning of the new era for the Catholic Church, and churches, monasteries and priories soon was established from Moster in south to Loppøya in north.

For ethnic Norwegians, cradle Catholics and converts, as well as for second or third generation immigrated Catholics, these historical roots are important and create a profound bond of identity and a feeling of being on old grounds. And in addition to this, there are large groups of working immigrants and groups of refugees coming from all over the world. A normal Norwegian Catholic parish may count about fifty different nationalities, some have over a hundred. This multinationality sometimes reminds us of Pentecost, and is a daily reminder of what the word ‘Catholic’ really means - universal!

Even though we consist of many nations, we are still few in numbers. In the Nordic countries there are 24 million inhabitants. Of these we count officially about 250, 000 Catholics. But even though we are small in numbers, we stand in a tradition that goes beyond both time and place. The local Catholic Church always stands in a larger context, both geographically, culturally and historically. Theologically we confess a universal faith based on a coherent doctrine followed by a sacramental practice that carries within it a spiritual strength that often opens doors for searching souls living in a secularised society. Therefore, there is no reason for pessimism; we only need courage to meet the many needs of men and women of our society, and strength to proclaim the Gospel in a context where there is no longer any immediate access to the faith. The situation can sometimes remind us of the dialogue between the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer, as Philip asked the man if he understood the Scriptures: ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ (Act 8,26). Let us then pray to Saint Olav for his intercessions for the spreading of the Good News also in this part of the world.

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The Catholic Church in Russia

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
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The Catholic Church in the Philippines

Sunday, February 12, 2012
Iglesia ni Cristo  Read more

The Catholic Church in Rwanda

Friday, February 10, 2012
Before their evangelisation, Rwandans believed in one God, Imana. This rich cocktail of Semitic and Bantu people had come to realise over centuries that only one magnificent being was the ruler of the universe. When missionaries entered the Rwandan kingdom to evangelise it, they were misled by people’s belief in the power of different ancestors and thought they were evangelising a polytheistic kingdom. It took a few years to have a few Rwandan theologians who would then explain that Imana could be used to mean the same God missionaries might have thought they brought to Rwanda. As John Mbiti wrote,” The missionaries who introduced the gospel to Africa in the past 200 years did not bring God to our continent. Instead, God brought them” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1746).

The first Catholic Church parish was inaugurated in 1900. The first missionaries were priests from the congregation of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as White Fathers. From the beginning, the Catholic Church had the support of the colonial powers (Germany till 1916 and Belgium, officially, from 1919 to 1962). It is nowadays unsustainably believed in Rwanda that missionaries have contributed to the ethnical and social divisions that might have occurred in the first half of the 20th century. This would be a very much debatable statement.

The Catholic Church grew and strengthened herself very quickly: the Bible was translated into the national language (Kinyarwanda), nine dioceses were created. Schools, universities, banks were started by Catholic Religious orders and the diocesan clergy. Rwanda became one of African countries with the highest percentage of the Catholic population. In the early 1980s, a very rural and poor village of Rwanda, Kibeho, experienced the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Today, two shrines are built there and Rwandan Catholics go there today to regret what was to follow in the early 1990s.

When Rwanda got its independence in 1962, the Catholic Church remained dangerously close to the civil power that ruled over a divided population. Divisions among clergy members started and only a few Christians chose to resist the temptation to adopt hatred over the fraternal love they had been taught by the Church. When the civil war started in October 1990 those divisions increased. In 1994, the country experienced one of the worst human bloodbaths of the 20th century: the Rwandan Genocide. Almost a million of people were killed in less than 100 days. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in churches, sometimes betrayed by the priests who had offered to hide them. The killings ended with the death of four Catholic bishops, hundreds of priests, members of religious orders and hundreds of thousands of Christians. Most of those were executed by fellow Christians. All those who remained were traumatized; either by what they endured or what they made their brothers and sisters undergo. Among two millions who left the country for Congolese refugee camps, more than three quarters were Christians. Hundreds of thousands died on their way to and from those camps. Today, the percentage of the Catholic Christians is less than 55%. It is said that many people left the Catholic Church after experiencing the lack of true love and care among its members inRwanda.

Despite all those hardships, many Catholics did not lose faith and kept their hope in the resurrection of a church that had lost many of her children. They looked at those who kept their faith and gave their lives protecting targeted fellow Christians. Indeed, dozens of Catholics protected the lives of hundreds people. Some of those were killed trying to shield them. They are already national heroes and the Church is still waiting for the beatification of some of them. Among them one would mention Sister Félicitée Niyitegeka and Father Jean-Bosco Munyaneza

The Rwandan Catholics try to understand what went wrong in the evangelisation they received from the missionaries. Today, an important place is given to the personal encounter with the Gospel, through spiritual directions, retreats and healthy debates in small Christian communities. The institutional church, which remains close to the power to a certain degree, tries to facilitate the reconciliation process among her children. An African theology is being done by Rwandan scholars who realised that they quickly assimilated a foreign way of thinking about their Christian faith, considering their roots as evil and demonic. The current issues in the Rwandan theology – as in the any other African theology – make them undertake a reconciliation of its African ethics of respect to all living beings and the ancestors with the evangelisation that they received from the West after it had gone through centuries of European acclimatization. Ecumenism is also being strengthened in Rwanda and any effort to slow it down is viewed as a yearning to return to the dark years of hatred. If the Catholic Church wants to rehabilitate its image in Rwanda, she owes to the Rwandans to be an example, starting by reconciling herself with other Christian churches and major faiths, with which actually she never had major issues or wars in Rwanda, contrary to what is found in the history of many other countries.

Catholics in Rwanda are recovering from their past and their celebrations are joyful, colourful and thousands of noted liturgical hymns in the national language are written every year especially by seminarians. Vocations to religious life and to priesthood are increasing again and one might expect a rebirth of a sweet and melodiousCatholic community from the bitter ashes of her past.

Here is a video of a thanksgiving hymn (in Kirundi) by a Dominican choir from Bujumbura in Burundi, a neighbouring country. After decades in war, the Dominican Vicariate of Rwanda and Burundi helps the youth to reconnect with God through local music.

By Br. Gustave Noel INEZA OP
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The Catholic Church in Scotland

Wednesday, February 08, 2012
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The Catholic Church in the United States: One Faith, One Church, Many Customs

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Catholic Church around the World

Saturday, February 04, 2012
In the coming weeks, members of the Godzdogz team will be sharing their experiences of the Church in different parts of the world, aspart of a new series of posts exploring different expressions of Catholic faith and life from across the globe.  Read more
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