The Roman Catholic tradition has a solid reputation, at least within the Christian world, of conservatism and lack of flexibility. Even in contemporary media, the memory of the Grand Inquisitor is never far from the background of the frequently presented figure of the present Pope. With its doctrine of ‘infallibility’ and authoritarian structure, Catholicism seems to throttle any attempt to express dissent not only in religious matters but, often enough, also in social movements. The history of the last two centuries shows how often official teachings have tried to support the established order and block change in religion. As evidences, one need only read the famous Syllabus of Condemned Errors, issued by the Vatican authority in 1864. In more recent times, the rejection of priestly ordination for women seems to be another case in point.
However, even within this conservative tradition, there are always movements rooted in new understandings of devotion and faith that make space for themselves within the church, often with difficulty. I would like to present here two important movements in Indian Catholicism, one at the opening and the other at the close of the twentieth century, and in this context, examine how the Indian Catholic Church has been coping with change and has strengthened its identity.
Brahmabandhab Upadhyay was a Bengali Brahmin, son of a police officer of the Raj, a contemporary and friend of Swami Vivekananda and member, at one time, of the circle of Keshab Chandra Sen’s followers. He was born in 1861 and was initiated early in his life into a double devotion: to the country and to Kali. In his original name, ‘Bhavanicharan’ suggests Kali, while the ‘Banerjee’ of Bengal suggests patriotism. University studies opened his horizons and he