Essay for the Dublin Review of Books on three recent releases relating to the Catholic church and its impact on the developing world.
The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the first pope from outside Europe in more than a millennium has drawn fresh attention to the Catholic Church’s role in the developing world. Pope Francis might be seen as an end product of those early European missionaries who stepped ashore in Latin America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries holding the Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.
In Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, Robert Calderisi tells of one such encounter in 1532 when a Spanish priest encouraged invading soldiers to imprison and then execute an emperor of the Inca civilisation because he had dropped a holy book in his presence. Some seven thousand Inca warriors were slaughtered in the subsequent conflict.
Calderisi aims to assess the Catholic Church’s contribution across at least three continents over five hundred years in about two hundred and fifty pages. It’s the sort of task only a World Bank economist would have the confidence to attempt. As a popular and somewhat breezy treatment of the subject, his book stands at the other end of the spectrum to a brace of studies by Edmund M Hogan, Ireland’s foremost missionary historian.
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Cross and Scalpel: Jean-Marie Coquard among the Egba of Yorubaland, by Edmund M Hogan, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria), 536 pp, £34.95, ISBN: 978-9780812874
Berengario Cermenati: Among the Ebira of Nigeria, by Edmund M Hogan, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria), 288 pp, £26.95, ISBN: 978-9780811822
Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, by Robert Calderisi, Yale University Press, 304 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0300175127 – See more at: http://www.drb.ie/essays/fishers-of-men#sthash.Wlornrrf.dpuf