Growing up in a catholic family and attending a catholic school, I never saw, let alone read, a bible – “The Bible.” The content was read to us and interpreted by priests. When I was 11, my parents sent me to a state school for a year. The first act of the “Religious Knowledge” teacher was to hand every student a copy of the new testament. The book was pocket size with red binding. In retrospect, it looked much like the not yet published “little red book.” By Chairman Mao. But it read very differently.
My family was active in the local catholic parish, my Father and brothers serving on the altar, and my Mother arranging church flowers. Our Sunday family lunches were usually a discussion and critique of who did what at mass that morning. I served as an altar boy for a few years until the choirmaster figured I could hold a tune and conscripted me into the choir.
As time passed, my knowledge of catholic liturgy and services increased. As I grew into my mid-teens, I began to feel something was missing. My practice of religion was technically correct. I was singing in tune and mainly by heart. I showed up every Sunday and catholic holidays as was my duty. I enjoyed church outings and other social events. Over time I began to realize what was missing, faith.
My church-related activities were indeed, “duty” and no more. This realization, dawning over the course of a couple of years, caused me to begin to question more and more about the catholic church. I struggled with the teaching that Catholicism was the only true religion. Teaching that even other Christian sects would be prevented from entering heaven. As for religion other than Christian, well, they were pretty much Satan’s fodder. At my Catholic school, priests taught about other faiths. Not objectively but to make them sound laughable and pathetic.
By the age of 16, I had become somewhat politically aware. I was forming opinions on various governments and movements around the globe: some good, some not so good, and some dictatorships downright evil. The Catholic church, in its wisdom, however, lauded any regime claiming to be predominantly Catholic, giving no consideration to human rights or justice.
General Franco was still dictator of Spain at the time and certainly in the “downright evil” camp, in my opinion. One Sunday at mass, I took and read a copy of the “Catholic Herald” newspaper. Franco was being heavily criticized around the world at that time. Possibly one of the few topics on which the West and the Soviet Bloc broadly agreed. The leading article in the Herald that week was essentially along the lines that we should ignore all the criticism of Franco because he was a good catholic and the leader of a Catholic Country.
For me, this was the tipping point. I never returned to the catholic church nor went to mass again for my sake. I had no problem with attending weddings, funerals, and baptisms. In later years I was happy to sometimes escort my Mother to mass after my Father died. For those many millions for whom Catholicism is a driving force in their lives, I was happy they found something in their religion. Something that eluded me, faith.