Abstract: The declining number of religious vocations joining Catholic seminaries in Italy has encouraged some dioceses to hire migrant religious workers to compensate for the lack of clergy available for parish work. Although initially approached as a temporary solution, an unforeseen consequence of this policy has been the emergence of congenial relationships between migrant priests and Italian parishioners, who often describe their bond as deeply spiritual. This article examines the experiences of Sri Lankan priests who work in Italy, highlighting the distinct emphasis that they place on reaching out to the communities that they work with. Through fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka and Italy, I analyse how South Asian priests use concepts such as devotion and sincerity to explain how their approach to the priesthood makes a ‘solemn’ difference that is celebrated by local parishioners. With an explicit focus on pastoral work, this form of Asian Catholicism emphasises the importance of bodily comportment, ceremonial poise and ritual dignity, capturing the yearnings of Catholic laities avid for devotional celebrations capable of re-connecting them to the spiritually meaningful aspects of their faith. My work draws lines of connection between the historical, theological and pedagogical underpinnings of Sri Lankan Catholicism and the affective responses that South Asian priests elicit in Europe.
Abstract: In order to better understand diverse configurations of Catholicism in relation to the contemporary anthropology of Christianity, we need to develop more dynamic models to interpret the interaction between the material of particular ethnographic accounts and the continual recalibration of broader cultural and theological paradigms involved in their framing and analysis. Building upon the growing body of work that has been produced in both the ethnography of Catholic communities and the critical reflection on theoretical dimensions of the new project of the anthropology of Christianity, we hope to nudge conversations toward more integrated explorations between these two lines of enquiry. The research presented in the articles included in this special issue collectively suggests that turning the ethnographic lens toward Asian Catholicism can serve to substantially enrich conversations with new empirical material on modern forms of religiosity. Well beyond that, moreover, critical engagement with such dynamic, theologically sophisticated, aesthetically complex, and socially engaged traditions can inform constructive critiques of the mainstream account of Anthropology’s approach to the study of Christianity.