Pagan Babies

by Mark on September 5, 2010

While preparing a Chinese discussion for my graduate globalization class, a distant memory flashed back – my adoption of at least three pagan babies in elementary school. I spent a few moments imaging whatever happened to them.

Of the many peculiar rituals at St. Mary’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grammar School the most unusual was the purchase and adoption of pagan babies in distant lands. The Dominican Nuns whisked down the aisles, scrapping their rosaries against our desks, and placed a cardboard missionary box in front each of us. They asked us to fill them from coins from our allowance, search for dimes under couch cushions, or seek donations from families or neighbors. When the coins reached $5, we could adopt a poor and starving pagan baby. I always imagined mine being from China due to my parents claims, “Mark, each your brussels sprouts. Some starving Chinese child would love to eat what’s on your plate.”

With my paper route, lawn mowing, and snow shoveling businesses, finding enough coins was easy. Making a decision between pagan babies and a movie ticket or model plane was a another matter. I decided to go for a few days of peace with the nuns by being the first to purchase a pagan baby. The good sister got the class to applaud, and of course she could not resist pulling on my chubby cheeks. The first step was giving my baby a Christian name, like Michael or Mary, rather than Li or Liu. A few weeks later I received an adoption certificate signed by the director of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Child.

My three adoption certificates disappeared decades ago, but look at the Chinese map and wonder what happened to Michael, Mary, or Joseph, who by now are in their forties:

• Are they working a small rice farm, carved in a cliff overlooking the Yangtze River? Maybe they are toiling in the irrigation ditches carefully cultivating their crop;
• Did they fight tyranny by giving up their lives or freedom in Tinnemand Square?
• Maybe they work long hours in a tennis shoe or electronics factory making goods for Wal-Mart?
• Perhaps they immigrated to North America and started an eating emporium in San Francisco or nearby Toronto;
• They may have leveraged that early cash from me and became a business leader or politician enjoying China’s rapid growth and new wealth. Do they stand on the Great Wall of China wondering who originally invested in them?

By today’s values my $5 equals about $35. That is not shabby, but it is hard to imagine it did more than provide a little nourishment. Perhaps it is like how the flapping of an African butterfly’s wings may create a Caribbean hurricane. Maybe all of those missionary boxes of coins created enough positive wind to raise a family or village to something better. I hope they are well. It is a reminder all of us to donate more coins to the poor. We just can’t rename them.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Patty Macias November 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hello Mark! Came across this blog while doing some research for the organization for which I work – the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States of which the Holy Childhood Association is a part. While I can’t tell you what may have happened to the young children you supported through your prayers and sacrifices, I can tell you that many young people in the Missions — once identified as “pagan babies” — have grown up to become priests, Sisters, Brothers or lay catechists. And, I can assure you that even today $5 makes a huge difference in the lives of children in the Missions. In fact, in the Diocese of Lodwar in Kenya one of the areas most affected by the current drought and famine, a contribution of $6,000 from HCA helped a Church-run nutrition program for 1,200 infants and toddlers. In this case, just $5 provides the food that is lovingly offered by priests and Sisters to a hungry child! Thanks for sharing your memories of HCA online!

Frank Gadzik March 9, 2016 at 2:12 am

Mark, you come across as someone who has access to solid, maybe even reliable information on the Pagan Baby phenomenon. Given the shady history of the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries I’m wondering if any scandals were ever born of this endeavor. Are you aware of any reputable investigations that might have been carried-out either by the Church or by independent members of the media? Even if there were no scandals, such information would be reassuring. Also along these lines I’m curious as to whether there might be some sort of history of this campaign available to the public. Thanks. –Frank

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