Saturday, February 19, 2011

Whetting Forbidden Appetites

"Virtual contact cannot and should not be a substitute for direct human contact with people at all levels of our society." Pope Benedict XVI
What if contact directly, face-to-face, with others in society does not fulfill peoples' needs? Mostly because they do not occur? And people turn to other sources of comfort and enterprisingly find a niche for themselves in a virtual world where they are accepted? What if the allure of the Internet and its vast resources attract the intellectually curious and the lonely of the world?

Here's an irony: a computer brought into the 14th-Century Santo Domingo el Real convent in Toledo, Spain a decade ago because the mother superior had been persuaded that it could result in the need for fewer outside forays by her nuns. "It enabled us to do things such as banking online and saved us having to make trips into the city."

Clearly, the mother superior felt that conducting business activities through the Internet was far preferable than having her nuns exposed to direct human contact, lest they be defiled by that contact. The purity of their marriage to God kept sacrosanct by the distance of attractions not sanctioned by Mother Church; the resistibility of 'human contact' resulting in impurities of thought and action.

The reverse occurred, as it so often does. The computer opened the portals of opportunity for Maria Jesus Galan, brought to the convent as a novice at 21, and now 54 years of age. For whom the confined life spelled the ennui of tradition, and when the opportunity beckoned to open a FaceBook account, recounted her hobbies as "reading, music, art and making friends".

And make friends she did, almost six hundred of them. She also made very practical use of the computer, to digitize the voluminous, venerable convent archives, thus making them accessible to the world at large. So effective was she in her commitment to her vision that she won recognition from the government for scanning the convent's library texts.

The mother superior and the other nuns disapproved, however. The Archbishop of Toledo, citing "an internal matter", would not comment on the Dominican Order's turning upon Sister Galan, and firmly disinviting her from the convent. Now living with her elderly mother, Sister Galan looks ahead to the future, newly opened for her.

"I would like to visit London and New York. Such things were impossible to even dream when at the convent." The Pope's warning seems to have been upended by reality; the paradox of human behaviour and the unpredictability of fortune.

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