Enemies within the Church – Indian Currents

The first shocking attack on a convent which resulted in rape and murder of nuns and their co-workers took place barely after two months of India’s independence. It was done by the Pathan militants from Pakistan who had marched from Pakistan to capture Kashmir. The tragedy took place on 27th October 1947 in Baramulla near Srinagar. After many years the incident took place I had the opportunity to visit the convent and hospital run by the FMM sisters and pray at the graves of those saintly nuns and other lay persons who had sacrificed their lives in that fateful night. 

Though isolated attacks used to take place in later years in some parts of the country occasionally, the church personnel in general experienced acceptance and recognition from people and government officials. However in 1990 the whole country was shocked by the news of gang rape of nuns in a convent in Meerut diocese. This was followed by the murder of two nuns in Bombay. Over the years, murder of priests, rape of nuns and attacks on churches became ordinary events and lost even their news value. The large scale violence, murder and rape of Christians and destruction of over two hundred church institutions did not get sufficient attention from the media. In many cases government administration and police do not pay attention to the grievances of victims who suffered these attacks.

The Hindu fundamentalist groups of RSS under the patronage of BJP government have launched fierce attack on the Church institutions and personnel. Not only the fanatic  sadhus and  swamis make inflammatory statements of hate and revenge but also responsible ministers and members of Parliament deliver hate speeches against Christians and Muslims. “By 2020 we will finish Christians and Muslims”, “ Ghar Vapasi (reconversion) of Christians and Muslims is a national necessity”, “Bhagwat  Gita should be made a national scripture”, “God does not exist in mosques and churches” etc. are some of them.

Passive and indifferent response of the Church:

Whenever an attack takes place on a church institution or personnel, the reaction from the part of the Church was very passive. Bishop of the diocese and some delegates meet the minister and police officials who make routine promise to take action. In some places a protest rally is organised with a few people. In many cases proper information about the incident also is not circulated to media and church institutions. Neither is a crisis management team formed to make effective strategies to prevent such incidents in future, nor is any serious effort made to follow up the case to get the culprits punished. Criminals go unpunished because of our inaction. “If we go behind the case we will have more trouble” is the attitude of many church leaders.Some others make the excuse saying, “We forgive because Christ has asked us to do so”. Forgiveness is not a virtue of the cowards and the weak. It is a virtue of the strong who is capable of harming the opponent.

Though the church institutions and personnel were facing attacks over the years the response of the church at the national levelwas very ineffectiveand indifferent. “We have no problem here”, “People here aregood to us”, etc. were the expressions of priests and nuns who run prestigious institutions in the cities. Initially the village missions and priests and nuns were the victims of anti-Christian attacks. Those who were running big institutions in the cities were not affected by the anti- Christian forces and local thieves. With the rise of BJP and Hindu fundamentalist groups everyone started feeling the heat. Yet there are some who behave like frogs in the well and feel that they are safe.

Unwilling to analyse and introspect:

Despite increasing violence and attacks on the church institutions and personnel the church leadership is neitherfeeling the need for making a critical analysis of the situation nor willing to make an introspection of its way of life and priorities. After visiting Gajarulla, the place where the nuns were gang raped in 1990, I had suggested the late Archbishop Eugene D Souza of Bhopal to organize a meeting to discuss about the implications of this incident. “CBCI has not given us any instruction” was his response. He refused my persuasion to call for a meeting to prepare future strategies to prevent such situation in our area. I was very disappointed because I had considered him as a church leader who had a vision. In the same way whenever I suggested to bishops and religious superiors to organize a review meeting  (chintanbaitak) to analyse such attacks and tragedies they did not take it seriously. After visiting the Kandhamal region in Orissa, when I suggested a responsible office-bearer of CBCI to hold a national consultation he took it very lightly saying, “We are meeting ministers and government officials”. Disappointed by such indifferent responses, I personally invited some provincials, principals of schools and other important persons in the church. Over sixty persons responded. Some bishops sent their delegates from their dioceses. After reflection and analysis of two days, a document was circulated among the important church leaders with many radical and practical proposals to meet the challenges. I wonder if any responsible persons ever read them. However I published the same proposals in my book VISION 2030 for the future generations to read and realize.

After the electoral victory of Narendra Modi and formation of BJP Government at the centreI had foreseen the aggressive ways of Hindu fundamentalists to suppress the minorities, especially Christians and Muslims. I shared my concern to some bishops and suggested to organize a consultation to analyse the changing socio-political scenario of the country and prepare strategies. To my utter surprise many were positive of Modi government and repeated the views and impressions of what the media had projected about Modi. 

Even after repeated attacks on the churches and convents by the fringe groups with the support of the BJP government the church at the national level is not showing any sign of collective action. When the Hindu fundamentalists are forcing all the schools of Jagadalpur diocese in Chattisgarh state to keep the pictures of goddess Saraswati and follow other unjust demands, the CBCI is not planning to make a common strategy. The state government is harassingthe church personnel by ordering all kinds of enquiries. “Each diocese and region will have to make their own responses and deal with local issues” was the response of a very high dignitary of CBCI which is considered as the apex bodyof the Church in India. Even when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited to a function to celebrate the canonisation of two Indian saints in the national capital, the program was presented as a function of a particular sect – Syro Malabar Rite – instead of a national program of all Catholics. The ego and sectarian mind-set of the organisers reduced it to a programme of aparticular sect of Catholics. God and his saints also are divided by limited human beings. Petty loyalties and lower identities replace larger issues affecting the church.

Ignorant and self-righteous clergy:

I was happy to see a couple of bishops who felt the need for serious analysis and preparing a strategy to face the challenges ahead of the church. Though some bishops and major superiors organized workshops and seminars with the help of persons with expertise and experience, some self-righteous priests and religious who considered themselves superior to all others excused themselves from such programmes. A few of them were highly prejudiced and behaved like the Pharisees of Jewish religion, “what good can come out of Nazareth?” It is a proven fact that ignorant personsare usually self-righteous and aggressive. In many such programs organized by the dioceses or congregations, a good number of priests and religious who hold important responsibilities remain absent. The persons who need the orientation and guidance most are those who absent themselves. The authorities often express their helplessness and fail to assert themselves to make these self-appointed high priests fall in line. Later they demoralize the weak and innocent by their negative propaganda, resulting in the failure of all the good plans made in the seminars and workshops. These self-righteous high priests act as enemies within, bringing more damage to the church than the hostile forces outside.

Rising fundamentalism within the Church:

During an orientation for priests and religious in a diocese, after explaining the emergence of Hindu fundamentalist forces and their well-planned strategies a critical analysis was made about the missionary activities. Many practical suggestions were made to make the Church’s mission relevant and effective based on the life and teachings of Christ. Following the example of Christ it was proposed to promote pluralistic spirituality, avoid colonial legacy, express loyalty to the nation, and abandon the sectarian and exclusive style of working. 

Even after analysing how Church today is facing opposition, alienation and elimination over the years some young priests who were ordained only a few years ago and had no exposure to the realities of the country stood up to defend the traditional ways of practicing rituals and preaching. Without learning about the authenticity of the resource persons and their experience these young priests questioned and argued with them. The shocking thing was that they presented ISIS militants and protestant pastors as models of proclamation of faith. They were warning the participants, including the bishop who was present, not to make compromise on Christian beliefs. I wondered how much these young priests knew the atrocities ISIS fundamentalists were perpetrating everyday on innocent women, children and others who differ from them. Do they know how much damage the fanatic protestants and irresponsible preachers within the church are doing to the church by their unchristian statements against people of other faiths?

Preaching beliefs without practising values:

Christ accused the religious leaders of his time for neglecting truth and values. While very fanatic about observance of external rituals they did not practice justice, sensitivity, forgiveness, mercy and other human values in their daily lives. Many modern day preachers and defenders of beliefs make compromise on values of honesty, justice and forgiveness. A good number of clergy and religious are accused of dishonesty infinancial matters. They do not see spirituality of paying just and decent salary to the workers. They do not find anything wrong in paying bribes to get the works done.

Incompetence justified:

Many of these preachers and priests who are ignorant and incompetent to manage crisis, neither read any serious books, nor attend any serious talks by experts. They neither spent time for contemplation nor work hard. They have no desire to learn anything new and waste precious time in useless activities such as chasing friends in face book, parties and watching TV and internet. A good number of them do not read newspaper daily. They do not read any articles on current affairs which appear in newspapers and magazines. They justify their incompetence saying, “we have many other priorities than reading”, “we are pastors and not university lecturers” etc. They do not have the confidence and competence to meet and interact with any government officials or other prominent persons in the society.

Identity and witnessing:

Talking about Christian identity and witness has become an obsession to many preachers and defenders of Church. Priestly class is very eloquent about preserving Christian identity. These preachers criticise the nuns who have adopted Indian way of dressing in sari or salwar suit. In some retreat centres and churches nuns who do not wear traditional western style of religious habit are not allowed to distribute Holy Communion. The paradox is that the priests, who speak about identity and witness through dress to the nuns, go around wearing jeans and T-shirts like swinging heroes. Why the responsibility of witnessing and projecting Christian identity is left to the nuns alone and not to the priests? These preachers forget the fact that Christ lambasted the religious leaders of his time for their hypocrisy of exhibitionism. External exhibition, either in dress or rituals, cannot be witnessing. Erecting high statues of Christ and building large churches cannot be Christian identity.

It is against the Jewish background of exhibitionism Jesus asked his followers to bear witness bytheir life example of values. Love is the witness and identity of Christians: “By your love the world will know you are my disciples”. Against the aggressive exhibitionism of Jewish leaders Jesus asked the disciples to be the salt of the earth. As salt does the task of adding taste, preserving from decay and healing, Jesus wants his disciples to be source of life in the society without their aggressive presence. The obsession for aggressive external exhibitionism projects one’s own inner emptiness. When people come to know our selfless life and uncompromising stand on values they will respect us for our being than our external appearance.

Closed up in the campus and ghetto mentality:

Ignorance of the socio-political and cultural context makes clergy and religious not only incompetent to deal with the new situations but also make them stagnant. They do not feel the necessity of changing their thinking and way of life.Clergy and religious do not learn from the way of Christ. He always made evaluation with his disciples. Hence he asked them when they returned from their field exposure. “Who do people say that I am?”After getting their response he asked a direct question to them, “Who do you say that I am”? Today priests and religious do not want to know what people say about them. They would keep away all who would criticise them. They keep the sycophants around them and avoid those who genuinely point out the mistakes from the perspective of improvement. The opinions of sycophants and those who depend on them for their livelihood are the criteria for assessing therightness and relevance of anything. These clergy and religious who live in their campus do not know the public opinion about them. They do not know the false propaganda spread by the hostile forces. Corrections and suggestions made by experienced persons are rejected and condemned as blasphemy. 

Faulty formation:

The root cause of the stagnation and disintegration which are visible in the lives of clergy and the religious personnelis due to the faulty formationin the seminaries andreligious communities. The whole attention is on lecturing the subjects by some lecturers whose qualification is the degree he/she holds. Often these lecturers also are people who have never lived in difficult situations of mission stations andfaced thehostile situations. Seminaries and formation houses are like colleges where students write examinations with minimum memorizing. Young people spent long years doing the minimum required reading and participating in the minimum obligatory community activities like being present in the church for prayer, eating together and praying together. A large majority of these young seminarians never read any book on their personal initiative. Only a few take personal initiative to develop their talents by giving extra time. Gone are the days when the staff sets example as a mentor to the young seminarians and religious. Occasional visits to the diocese and meeting the senior priests also do not provide much inspiration; instead they learn the tricks of the trade through shortcuts. They fail to enjoytheir life in its fullness.

Urgent mission:

Jesus had always expressed urgency in his mission.” Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel”. Complacency and passive attitude of putting off things are not the ways of Jesus. It is a pity to see many priests, religious and those in leadership position wait for worse things to happen. From the year 1990 God has been sending signs, calling for change. Even the worst kind of violence, murder, rape and destruction of church institutions did not awaken the church personnel to prepare new strategies to face the difficult days ahead. The colonial legacy, inner conflicts and misplaced priorities have blinded the church leaders and personnel to read the signs. It is a life and death situation. If we do not act now we will be no different from Nero who played fiddle while Rome was burning. If the national bodies of the church do not act, each diocese and congregation should initiate the process of reflection and make action plans: first to identify and control the enemies within and later to face the enemies from outside. Both are equally dangerous and disastrous. It is time to act, act NOW.

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