A Franciscan Friar, Rembrandt, 17th century oi...

A Franciscan friar, Rembrandt

As a child I went to religious schools.  Schools named after Saints such as Saint Francois Xavier and Saint Sulpice in Paris.  

Some of my courses were taught by friars, the one wearing brown robe and sandals in all seasons or seen on the labels of box of camembert or bottle of fine liquors.

I remember one friar, who taught religion, because he always rubbed the palm of his hand on the corner of his desk, the palm of the hand with a missing finger. He had a goatee and permanent red cheeks.

His class was not easy for me, being the only Black kid in the class; I always thought that looking at me reminded him of his purpose to join a religious order. Maybe, I was his version of the savage whose soul had to be saved.

I kept away from him after one of his kind slapped me in church for talking to my school mate.

I never said that France is color blind, especially in the late fifties when seeing a Black person walking down the streets was considered exotic or an oddity to the mass.

Actually, almost all my teachers had a round at slapping my blackness and I never retaliated. During exam times I had at least one to two slapping bout a week.

I knew I was different but I was reminded of my blackness around 10 years of age when a class mate called me nigger (nègre in French) during recreation.
I cried and told the director and his reaction was to go away laughing.

Two teachers never slapped me.  I remember the name of only one, Monsieur Piat, and the other was a physical education teacher. Their specialty was psychological torture with a racial tone.

These were fine Catholic schools with a crucified Jesus as main decoration in all classes. I hated school.

We were, class by class, obligated to go to church, the confessional and swallow the ostie on a weekly basis.

We all were good certified Catholics and could prove it with a baptismal certificate and confirmation and first communion pictures.

During the holidays we were given cards to be signed and date stamped by the priest wherever we attended mass.

Once the indoctrination process completed I felt liberated and never went back to church.

Then with ages, I thought that I was wrong and that I should know the meaning of life and have an adventure like Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, Santiago in the Alchemist, and the Little Prince.

Believers told me they felt illuminated, uplifted and full of hope after a church service and I wanted to have such experience.

So, again, but free willing I went back to church and felt absolutely nothing.  I changed faith, thinking that my soul was trapped in the wrong religion and again felt nothing.

I went back to Catholicism, the Christian religion which spent years brainwashing me by telling me that we are God’s children.

I, again, did all the rituals by standing up, sitting down and bruising my knees on the pews and listening to sermons about allegoric and unseen forces affecting my tangible and imperfect world.

Again, I felt nothing and the sermons interfered with my human logic, unsettled my intellect and raged me with its bias.

At no time did I see the path leading to the nirvana state that others experienced.

I do not know if religion is a good panacea.  Africa is among one of the most religious continents of the universe but then it is also the one with the most wars and conflicts.

Africans are spiritual and yet they make potions from albino’s body parts or kill twins which are a sign of bad omen and have large praying rally for the people coming back from The Hague after being heard for crime which they may have committed against humanity.

I gave up on the idea of being religious and spiritual and to date I have never experienced any Holy Ghost type of activity in my soul.

I seriously tried but there is nothing within me, not even a tinge or a twitch, announcing a trance, shaking me or making me speak in tongue like the one I see on TV.

I am not an atheist; it takes too much strength to prove that something supreme does not exist so I straddle in the agnostic world.

That’s easy for me; I respect what other people think as long as they don’t take me for crazy or an idiot because I do not share their ideas of the beyond.

It does not mean that religion is bad.  I think some religious buildings are great work of architectural arts. Religion provides a CV for prisoners requesting parole. The church bells are good to adjust time. Commercial religion has worldwide tax-free benefit. Religion is an alibi for corrupt African big men.

But then, my paradox is that I like religious music.  I like gospels, I like Black American gospels with a lone singer stomping, moving, and jumping in front of a large choir and the haunting Gregorian chants.

Gospel music is beautiful.  I don’t agree with the meaning of most songs but I rely on the expression of the singers. I like their happiness, joyful exuberances and energy.  I like the way they improvise.

It does not mean that I make it a purpose to listen to it but when it comes to my ears, I pause and take time to enjoy. I can enjoy for hours.

Gregorian chants are solemn, mysterious and sublime to listen. The voices make me close my eyes while listening. Gregorian chants offer a pure calming, transcending and soul enhancing bliss.

Warning: To listen in small doses. Gregorian chant may be hazardous to your health. When feeling low it can drive you to abysmal depression leading to dementia. In the event it occur switch to Gospel music.

That’s my true Black experience shaped by Christianity.




  1. I enjoyed your piece, although I wonder if it is unique to you because of skin color. My experience is similar, but with a protestant version, yet I cling to the belief of a benevolent Supreme Being who is involved in our daily lives as He wills. Good read!

    • I am born in 51. French people with a German or Jewish name in these days had problem too with Piat.
      I was easier to single out because of my colour. It is interesting to kow that you had a similar experience with the protestants. I would think they were less strict.
      Anyway, I have to admit , these two schools gave me a bitter taste about religion and school. The physical abuses gave me lasting memories.

  2. I like your honesty. I was brought up as a staunch Catholic.I did not attend religious school but in Panama the Roman Catholic religion along with the history of the church was taught as a subject in schools when I was a child , reinforcing the idea that the country is officially Catholic.
    Because I did not attend a Catholic school, most of the nuns and priests that I met later were the revolutionary ones. The ones who are filled with love for humanity and go about their business fighting for justice with a passion.
    I have noticed that folks who attended religious school have horrible things to say about nuns and priests.

    I have cousins who attended an elite private Catholic school run by Swiss nuns and they terrrorized and beat them. My uncle was so into sending his daughters to school among wealthy Catholics that my cousins ended up as individuals who are uncomfortable among regular people.
    I can remember vividly learning and memorizing the catechism lessons from a pretty blue book , wearing the veil while in church, and attending Sunday Mass on an empty stomach.
    I think I have always felt the need to question everything therefore my first run in with the Catholic Church was when I had to confess my sins to the priest during the time that I made my First Communion vows.

    I remember making things up to tell the priest because I felt he would not believe that I had not lied or done anything wrong. I was a very obedient little girl and that confession thing just rubbed me wrong . That was the first and last time I ever confessed to a priest.

    One of the things that has remained with me that I cherished and I believe has come from me being a Catholic is the great intimacy that I have with God.Catholics pray a lot. I like the fact that they regularly gather together at homes to pray.

    From early on I had put all the rituals and ceremonies aside and went directly to God. Even today I am able to block everything and everyone out in terms of my feelings toward God. I simply fell in love with God and I now I really need God because I know Him and love Him.

    This religion thing, I consider as separate. As a matter of fact I do not need religion. I have God.

    I was not brought up with Gospel music but with hymns. I love Christian hymns.
    What I like the most about the Catholic Church is that their doors are always open during the day for people to come in and pray.
    I still consider myself a Catholic. I believe some of my values of justice and love toward humanity are from my early Catholic upbringing.


    • Ana,
      I always love your comments.
      Funny, also during confession I would always invent the same stories. I could not find anything creative to say to the priest behingd the curtain.
      I think all of us did the same thing. The pries had his ritual and us too.

  3. Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it with religious conviction. — Blaise Pascal

  4. A spiritual search can be quite healthy and fulfilling. Why not explore Budhism, Islam or Judaism and other belief systems.

    Enjoying your blog.

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