The original article appeared in Kesri in May 2015.
With recent allegations and criminal cases, the laity is further getting alienated. It almost seems that the Church is a loser while laity (read Jesus) is the victor!
The Catholic Church fired an unusual salvo on March 19, 2015, through an edit page article in its own mouthpiece Deepika, a Malayalam daily. The author was Mar Joseph Pawathil, the Archbishop of Changanassery Arch Diocese. He is one of the most seasoned priests in Catholic Church of Kerala who had shot into prominence through the Liberation Struggle of 1959 held against the first elected Communist government led by E M S Namboodirippad.
What was disturbing was more than the outrage on rape, the Church gleefully saw an opportunity to blame Hindutva forces.
What stood out this time was the target of Mar Joseph Powathil. Usually, the Communists were the target of his attacks. But this time, it turned out to be the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He charged the RSS to be the Hindu counterpart of the ISIS which was a serious allegation. What caused the archbishop to raise such an allegation was the observation made by RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat about Mother Theresa and also the alleged attacks on some of the churches in New Delhi. On an objective analysis, it can be seen that the archbishop had misinterpreted the observation made by Bhagwat on Theresa and also exaggerated the minor vandalizing of some churches in the national capital.
Mohanji Bhagwat while speaking on charity said that: we at RSS do charity without expecting anything in return, unlike Teresa. Teresa may be doing a good job but there is an expectation behind that the recipient may convert to Christianity. Conversion is a personal choice. But the expectation reduces the value of the charity2…
Now it is very clear that he was not demeaning Teresa but only emphasizing the importance of selfless service.
Though the article by the archbishop was full of allegations which were provocative, serious and baseless, the Kerala leadership of the RSS chose to downplay it. They met the Thrissur Archbishop Andrews Thazhath and clarified every aspect of the concerns raised by the Church. This was to clear the apprehensions, if any, in the minds of the leaders of the Church. The RSS leaders assured Thazhath that there was nothing to be worried about.
Meanwhile, the truth behind the attacks on churches and various institutions run by the Church in New Delhi started appearing in dailies. Most of these attacks were isolated incidents such as theft, a few even by discontented employees hired by the churches. There were instances of window panes getting shattered by cricket balls played by innocent children.
The biggest commotion arose following reports about the rape of a nun in Calcutta. What was disturbing in this incident was, more than the outrage on rape, the Church gleefully saw an opportunity to blame Hindutva forces. The whole controversy fizzled out when Bangladeshi illegal immigrants were arrested for the rape. An embarrassed Church took the nun to Rome to hush up the matter. However, the RSS did not pursue the matter to blame the Church for dragging its name into the whole episode.
Cardinal Joseph Parekkattil was the first Cardinal (of Indian Catholics) who demanded Indianization of Catholic Church.
Then it was the turn of Cardinal Alencherry to attack the Sangh Parivar. On May 1, the cardinal wrote an article in MATHRUBHUMI daily as he would have felt that the DEEPIKA did not have any significant reach in the State. He dealt with the murders committed by ISIS and Boko Haram and asked whether it was fair to kill people who lived their lives according to their beliefs. Though the Cardinal had alleged in the article about murders, he had not pointed out any particular murder allegedly committed by the Sangh Parivar. What the readers felt after reading the article by the Cardinal was that many Christians were getting killed in India because of their religious beliefs. Though it was a blatant lie, the Cardinal had to utter lies because only lies could support his design to blame the RSS.
India never had any history of riots between the Hindus and Christians in the recent past. Hence the bishop and the cardinal are morally bound to explain to the people the reason behind their claims, allegations, and accusations. What is clear as daylight is the fact that the Cardinal is annoyed and angry. But we do not know the reason behind the anger.
The Cardinal insists that nations/countries should not have any religion. We can understand this. But when he argues that the concept of the theocratic state itself is wrong and a sin, he should not forget the existence of a theocratic State by the name of the Vatican. Christianity is the State religion of the Vatican. If Cardinal Alenchery is opposed to the concept of theocratic State, he must first convince the Pope. Why should he advise the people of a secular country like India about the ill effects of a theocratic State?
The Cardinal asks the people to come back to the heart of Indian culture! It is not clear who are the people he refers to. Still, let us assume that the exhortation is to the people of India. But is the Cardinal favourably disposed to the Indian culture? Has he noticed the laity following the Indian culture? Will he accept it?
Now a quick recap. Cardinal Joseph Parekkattil was the first Cardinal (of Indian Catholics) who demanded Indianization of Catholic Church. Though he raised this demand and got it accepted in the second Vatican Council, the Catholic priests of Kerala did not give him the required support.
Remember the time when the Church declined to baptize the newborn of singer Yesudas due to the annual pilgrimage undertaken by the singer to Sabarimala…
The dynamics of Hindutva
The Hindu culture is a great flow… a silent and uninterrupted flow. No Indian can keep away from the embrace of this great and incessant flow. A Hindu can believe in any God, he/ she can reject any God… He/she have the freedom not to believe in any God. But he/she would not be able to live discarding the Hindu culture, tradition or dharma. The more a person tries to push away the Hindu culture, the more it draws one towards it. Jawaharlal Nehru himself has written in his autobiography about this unique feature of Hinduism (Figure 1). This is the reason why Sahodaran Ayyappan, Kerala’s great social reformer, an atheist whose slogan was ‘we don’t need religion, we don’t need caste and we don’t want God’ added repeatedly that ‘we need Dharma’.
Many foreign ideologies were uprooted in the great deluge of time. In Kerala, Christian women started wearing the Hindu style costumes and even spotted the sindoor on their foreheads to announce their marital status. Nowadays one cannot identify Christian women through their names because most of them are named Veena, Gita, Vidya etc which are purely Hindu names. This was not seen some twenty-five or thirty years back. But that has not put an end to people using the Christian names like Alice or Mary… The Thali (mangal sutra) which is alien in countries where Jesus and Mohammed were born has become so sacred and divine to Christian and Muslim women of India!
Those who criticize Hindu culture should open their eyes and take a look around… Are there any churches today which do not boast a flagstaff, a landmark of Hindu temples? Though the Church declares that idol worshipping is an unpardonable sin, are there any churches in India which do not have statues of the saints and the beatified? Aren’t the larger-than-life statues of Jesus Christ and other saints installed in front of Churches and Chapel’s idolatry?
Similarly, the processions undertaken during Church festivals too have been Hinduized… No church processions would be complete without the participation of caparisoned elephants and the great percussion show featuring chenda, mridangam, thimila, maddalam, edakka etc. Astrologers in Kerala are busy with their Christian “customers” who make it mandatory to prepare the horoscope of the tiny tots! Remember the time when the Church declined to baptize the newborn of singer Yesudas? The Church’s objection was due to the annual pilgrimage is undertaken by the singer to Sabarimala… But today neither the Church nor Yesudas remembers these incidents. Yesudas continues to worship at Sabarimala even as he remains a devout Christian.
Things have reached a stage where the Christians do not find anything wrong in making offerings to Hindu Temples. Many churches in Kerala have started the practice of worshipping with lamps (Deeparadhana), Thulabharam (offerings to the deity an equivalent of one’s own weight) and even the Vidyarambham (initiation to the world of letters). Yoga, Astrology, and Vaastu have become essential ingredients in Christianity. These cultural changes took place, not by any Papel Bulls pastoral letters issued by the bishops. These are solely due to the ameliorating characteristics of the Hindu religion.
Guruji M S Golwalker had demanded way back in 1972 that non-Hindus should be allowed in temples in an interview he granted to Illustrated Weekly of India .
Let’s not forget the fact that the Church too has initiated certain steps to Indianize its approach. The year 2008 saw the introduction of Community Bible in which Joseph was portrayed as a North Indian villager with traditional headgear and Mary wearing a sari! She even had a sindoor spotted on her forehead!! The pictures had captions culled from Upanishads and Gita which had similarities with what was said in the Bible. But what happened is that the attempt to Indianize the Church fell flat as more and more Christians started reading Upanishads and Gita. “What was launched as a measure to cover up the scar ended up as leukoderma,” complained the priests forcing the Church to withdraw the Community Bible. Though a revised Community Bible was launched in 2010, the outcome was the same and the Church silently put it in cold storage. It ended up as futile as the attempt to present the works of Shakespeare in Kathakali format. A square peg in a round hole!!
It is not known whether the Hindu society accepted the changes/reforms initiated by the Church. But there were some who doubted the intentions and asked whether the measures were a violation of the copyright of the Hindu system. They should understand the truth that copyright was never an Indian tradition. Our nature was to offer whatever we speak and write to the world for free. That’s the reason why Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Vedas are printed and sold without any reservation by the outside world.
Hindus also are making amends to further bring Christian brethren near them. Best example would be the question of temple entry. We can see billboards in front of many temples proclaiming that non-Hindus are not allowed inside. But isn’t this an anti-Hindu pre-condition? There is no rationality in a law which prevents the entry of a believer inside the temple. One of the reasons being furnished for this practice is the opposition of Muslims and Christians towards idol worship. The repercussions following the invasion of Tipu Sultan are also cited as one of the reasons. The missionaries and evangelists who focused their attention on temples also played a significant role in carving out such a practice. Since no such threats exist as on date, the temple doors should be opened to all sections of the society.
It may be pointed out that the RSS has demanded through a resolution in 2008 that temple doors should be opened for non-Hindus also. Furthermore, Guruji M S Golwalker had demanded way back in 1972 that non-Hindus should be allowed in temples. It was in an interview he granted to Illustrated Weekly of India that he made this demand.
Are these social changes upsetting the spiritual leaders of the Church? Is it because of the weakness of the Church to withstand the winds of change they are getting annoyed and tense? It is really a pity that the shepherds do not have the confidence which the laity has!
Political discussions should be held with community leaders instead of the spiritual leaders because the latter have lost relevance in present-day power politics.
There are many denominations of Christian Church which are operating in the country. Even though they are not numerically as strong as the Catholic Church, they have not raised any kind of alarms. This is despite the presence of Pentecostal Church which is engaged in intensive proselytization drive all over India. Then what is it, that is bothering the Catholic Church while other factions are not bothered about anything? This is where we should discuss the politics behind these apprehensions and reservations shown by the likes of Cardinal Alencherry and Joseph Pawathil.
The political stance of the Church had always put the laity in a difficult position. The bargaining being done by the Church with political outfits at the time of elections divides the community into various factions. Because of this stance of the spiritual heads, the laity rejects the pastoral letters issued by the former during the election. This diminishes the political bargaining power of the Church. We saw what happened when the hands and legs of a teacher, Prof Joseph were chopped by Islamic fundamentalists. The Church, instead of supporting him, threw him out of his job. Church also came to the rescue of the Italian marines who shot two Kerala fishermen dead in the high seas. Many priests who occupy important positions in the Church are not happy with the style of functioning of the spiritual leaders of the Catholic community.
Interestingly, it was K M Mani, one of the most veteran politicians in Kerala, who exposed the hollowness of the political threats made by the Church leaders. When Mani contested from Pala assembly constituency in the 1977 assembly election, the Church led by Joseph Pallikkamparamban, the then assistant bishop of Pala diocese was totally against him. Despite the open campaign against Mani by Pallikkamparamban, Mani won the seat with ease which proved how politically-weak the Church was. Things have worsened since then. The Church has become further weak because of the frequent demands being made by them to political party leaders.
Since the Church has lost their bargaining power and influence over the laity, the pastoral letters issued by them have become irrelevant. Most of the time, such directives are not read during the congregation. Political discussions should be held with community leaders instead of the spiritual leaders because the latter have lost relevance in present-day power politics.
With recent allegations and criminal cases of land-grab, black money, rape etc. the laity is further getting alienated. It almost seems that the Church is a loser while laity (read Jesus) is the victor!
Conversion was Mother Teresa’s real aim, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat says – Feb 24, 2015, Times of India
 Mohan Bhagwat says Mother Teresa had conversions in mind – Feb 23, 2015, IndianExpressOnline
Crying wolf: The narrative of the ‘Delhi Church attacks’ flies in the face of facts – Feb 17, 2015, Firstpost.com
Ranaghat nun rape case: Kolkata court finds Bangladeshi guilty of rape – Nov 7, 2017, Indian Express
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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