The older Europeans understood these things. The French and Spanish imperialists sent the priests in right away with the invaders. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. And looking back, it did indeed make an imprint in the Philippines, Vietnam, everywhere. To the point where the war in Vietnam identified “ours” as Catholic and “theirs” as communist.

Even in the territorial disputes between Texas and Mexico, one of Mexico’s demands was that Southern Protestants “turn Catholic.” And Pope Benedict must be acutely aware of these issues as the first great Eastern Church, the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, as significant a Christian church as St. Peter’s historically, has been a mosque now for almost a thousand years. And here they are today praying in the pope’s own streets.

Probably everyone senses these things. No one had to tell the Irish Catholics in Toronto, Ottawa or Boston to team up to oppose the French Catholics. Part of being an Irish Catholic was not being a French Catholic. Or Catholic and Protestant among the working people in Manchester and Liverpool.

When my grandparents left those ports, most of the eyes were blue, RC or C of E. Today, judging from the images that come through on Daljit Dhaliwal’s world news, a good percentage appear to be Muslim, like it is a second religion in England. As Catholicism was a second religion then; the religion of the working class and the common people. And as in much of Europe, these are the people who are doing the real work.

We happened to be in Michigan around Ann Arbor during the Sept. 11 tragedy. My boys were young teenagers then. There are large Muslim groups in that region and in the well-maintained state parks that serve as beaches, groups of families gather. You could clearly see the generational differences. The old women dressed all in black, in chador. The next generation of women with babies dressed in contemporary American style but with a head scarf. The third generation in jeans listening to Kurt Cobain, like my kids. When we would go into stores in the little local cities where the community is more coherent and strict, the girls at the counters would commonly be wearing veils. After Sept. 11, many of the veils came off but the scarves stayed on and the girls would talk to my boys. It was their secret generational way of saying, “We belong here. We belong with you.”

But I think in the world where they play soccer, the veils started going back up. Not right after Sept. 11, but after the invasion of Iraq and on and on with that for seven years now into the night and fog. It is in the nature of people to separate by difference, often between head and heart. That is why the French and the Irish fought on ice and why when they built the big cathedral in Ottawa, they named one tower after a great French saint and the other after St. Patrick. To keep, as one commentator said, the Irish and the French working people “from killing one another.”

But the base is considerably wider in this amorphous contention between who we are and who we are not. At a level of 1.2 billion, Islam is the religion of 22 percent of the world’s people and is growing about 2.9 percent per year, according to Ontario’s Religious This is faster than the total world population, which increases about 2.3 percent annually. It is thus attracting a progressively larger percentage of the world's population. Lining up now in the unemployment lines in Manchester and praying together in the holy city of Mecca, in the streets of Kabul and in the Piazza Vittoria.

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