Monday, March 11, 2013

Open Letter to National Geographic on "The Roman Catholic Diaspora"

If war is God's way of teaching us geography then a Papal conclave can teach us about religion and geographic terms concerning distribution of populations.

To:  National Geographic News,

Christianity is the world's largest religion (at about 2.2 billion people or about 31% of the world's population) and Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity (1.2 billion, 55% of all Christians).  As such understanding the fundamental nature of the faith (or any major world faith) is important when trying to explain the world.

Your article and map "Map: The Roman Catholic Diaspora" gets a major religious point and also a geographic term wrong.

The first problem I have is with your use of the term "Roman Catholic".  The College of Cardinals does not belong to the "Roman Catholic Church".  The Roman Catholic Church is better understood as the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church itself is a combination of the Latin Rite and various Eastern Rites.  These range Eastern Catholics and Orthodox in communion with the Pope.  These sects are from areas as diverse as Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Syriac and Arab-influenced countries, and India.  In total  there are 23 churches united with the Pope.  While the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church is by far the largest church within the Catholic Communion, about ninety-eight percent, "Catholic" does not equal "Roman Catholic".  In fact, several members of the College of Cardinals are not Latin, aka "Roman", Catholics.

The second issue with the article is the term "diaspora".  Merriam-Webster primarily defines "diaspora" as "the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland."  The term even comes from Greek meaning "to scatter".  Most Catholics are native to their country of residence there for the term does not apply.  There is no Catholic homeland to speak of as the Church defines itself as "universal" i.e. not limited to one ethnic group or nation(s).  A better title would be "Map: Global Catholic Distribution".

Using current events to teach about the world is a well established effective education tool.  However, we need to be as accurate as possible otherwise growing misinformation threatens to drown out the truth.

1 comment:

Dina said...

I saw this just published about the Maronite patriarch and the Coptic partriarch, the non-Latin cardinals at the conclave:

and I remembered your good lesson from earlier this morning about this.