I was walking in Leeds with my friend Martin, when we were surrounded by a gang of Asian youths, who looked neither friendly nor sober. This was about 15 years ago, when I was a student at the university there. I assumed they were going to make trouble because Martin was (and remains still) white. “Stick with me, homie,” I joked. “I’ll protect you.”
As it turned out, the lads were more interested in me, the Asian out of the two of us. Then it came. His words, and he left me in no doubt how seriously he meant them, were, “Is you Muslim or Hindu, yeah?”
I had the flabber taken out of my gast. I thought, Gosh! How do I answer this one? I couldn’t tell if they were Muslims or Hindus themselves, so who could tell what they thought the right answer might be.
But I remembered the words of the Lord, Whoever denies me before men, him will I deny him before the Father. So, honesty being the best policy, I stammered: “I-I-I’m a Catholic.”
His friends had to pull him off me as he raged (I remember there was a lot of spittle going on): “Why? Why the f— are you a Catholic??!”
Should I tell him, Because the apostle St Thomas came to India 2,000 years ago and converted my ancestors, or, Because this is the church Jesus Christ, true God and true man, established on the foundation of the apostles.
In the end, a quick getaway seemed more expedient, for I had reason to believe he was not truly interested in inter-religious dialogue.