Chacko Kalarickal (USA) comments: "According to the new Canon Law (1991) the church citizens (Palliyogam and Parish Council) have only just advisory role. They can make recommendations but not to take action enforcing them. Archbishop and the priests are the decision makers. How cunningly they took the power from Palliyogam! What a pity!!
An Open Letter to Archbishop Perumthottam – Augustine Paul, Alenchery
This is in response to your request for suggestions and / or ideas in implementing the proposed spiritual five year plan, read out in all churches of the archdiocese and published in ‘Madhystan’. We have gone through your message and found that Christ’s teachings have been subverted, and new meanings have been propounded. Continuous supplication before God is not among the scheme of things He exhorts us to do. Christ asks us to see Him in the marginalised, the poor and the sick, and show empathy, mercy and love towards them to attain eternal glory. Your message tells us that Christ is in captivity and the church and its premises are under the whims and fancies of priests, who act as conduits between Christ and the faithful. Faith has shed its original meaning to become business and divine blessings are all purchasable. Your five year plan can only bring the uninformed laity to the altar and mouth, ‘Lord’, ‘Lord’, but the plan is inapt for them to acquire the spirituality to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christ lived the life of a wandering monk with no place to rest his head. He gave us only one prayer, which is loaded with meaning and destroys every system that holds the human race in oppression. Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer by establishing God as the loving father of humankind and designates unambiguously the brotherhood of man. He sweeps away the age old theology with its avenging God, its chosen people, its eternal hell fire, and all other horrifying and gruesome things that have terrified the faithful. The Prayer implies that race, group, class and colour have no significance in the sight of God, salvation is individualistic and each individual can take a spiritual path of his own choice with no interference from others. Jesus urges us to seek forgiveness for sins and forgive sins, which is the absence of love, empathy and mercy towards our brethren, TODAY since we have no guaranteed TOMORROWS. Five year plans in spiritual matters is, therefore, a fallacy and against the teachings of Christ. Infusion of this fanciful and obscure argument as spirituality in the minds of the hapless believers is equivalent to manufacturing the assent of the laity through manipulation.
Faith is trust, assurance and confidence in God. Living faith is serving God’s creations. The faith you propagate is something vastly different. In fact, you are taking the congregation back towards dark ages, when all activities of the faithful revolved around church hierarchy. Dictatorial tendencies, superstitious bias, morose practices, religious fervour for holy relics, blind devotion before saints and patron saints, increasing number of feasts, miraculous cures, meddling in social events and family-specific pursuits like marriage, distasteful rituals in the name of faith and terrifying the faithful under threat of attracting divine annoyance are all surfaced again in the Syro Malabar Church. The Holy Mass in the present form is full of anachronisms, repetitions and superstitious stupidity. In short, the church hierarchy has become an incredible species whose history can be characterized by insatiable greed to achieve and retain control over wealth and power. You are shaping a congregation that crave magical cures and unreal whims in a world that strives to be more scientific and rational. ‘Freedom to choose’ is the one concept that is enshrined in the creation story. However, the Syro Malabar Church abhors freedom to think, act and articulate in their faithful. We see the nastiest form of tyrannical tendencies and intolerance to democratic ideals in the church hierarchy. Unhindered power becomes coercive and authoritarian when it intrudes on our independence, and eventually invades our very being as thinking, rational individual. Accountability in equal measure accompanies your spiritual power and ample precaution should be taken not to subvert it through materialistic ideas and other deadly sins.
It is education and knowledge that unshackle a society from superstition and bring out free-thinkers to the fore. We gain awareness from experience and must change so that it mirrors the advancement and maturity of the time. It is us who gave shape to the society by imparting knowledge and, indeed, this is our true mission. Our ancestors built schools, colleges and career-guidance centres to promote free education and guide adolescents through their formative years to become responsible citizens of the society. Our education institutions have now lost their vision and demoted themselves as immoral money-making businesses. Education must get unfurled through our Arts, Medical and Engineering Colleges and imparted to the young minds without any profiteering. Instead of creating CBSE / ICSE schools to profit from the society, our traditional education system should get revamped so that existing job opportunities is not lost and new openings get generated. We need no more churches, but a smarten-up of our schools with necessary infrastructure to look innovative and student-friendly.
A surfeit of heart-wrenching stories and images of suffering, illness, poverty, despair, harassment, misery, neglect and disregard that is disturbing and unsettling comes to us through the media every day. The faces of these destitute reveal true stories of agony and misery, their eyes convey pain and their bodies reveal marks of countless battles for survival. These abandoned could lead a happy life if we arise as one to care for them, to feed them and to give shelter to them. But, what does the archdiocese do? For instance, our vicar is preoccupied with sins, confessions and confessional. He built an AC, soundproof confessional with sin-absorbing imported teak, where the confessor can kneel, sit, stand or lie down to get absolution of sins, a chapel for Perpetual Adoration and is in the process of building a rest room for the priests, who have so valiantly absolved sins. It is reprehensible to bring confessions and forgiveness of sins as central to catholic faith as all the recent allegations against the church stemmed from confessions and confessionals. We believed in the ubiquitous presence of God in our church when we were young, meditated in silence, and returned from our prayers, tranquil and serene. Now, Jesus leaves the main church after the Holy Mass for the nearby air-conditioned chapel of Perpetual Devotion for 12 hours, takes rest thereafter and returns to the main church for Holy Mass in the morning. Can you explain the need of a separate devotional chapel built at high cost from the donations of parishioners? How can you allow this wanton destruction of wealth by your vicar, when there are lots of humane needs unravel before us every day?
The faithful, who chose to immigrate to other countries, are destined to adapt themselves to the traditions, customs and way of life of the country of their migration. They and their children eventually integrate and change their lifestyle and learn to live in their adopted country. In the course of time, the immigrants might give up part of their identity and their culture to become one with the nation that welcomed them. Our Creed commands us to believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and hence, it is superfluous to go after and evangelise them in Syro faith. If you believe in the universal nature of Catholic Church, you should let local variants of the catholic faith to instil piety in them. From your past interactions with the non-residents, it is evident that you are doing pseudo-evangelisation and your only interest is to extort their hard-earned money. European countries are more liberated with a modern scientific tenor having little traces of intolerance or xenophobia. Countless activities of yours in the name of faith, like idolatrous displays, invite shame and ignominy and tarnish our name as a progressive and scientifically aware society.
You have aired your desire to build churches for every 100 families some time back and Athirampuzha is in the process of completing two churches, one at Mannanam and the other near Charis Bhavan at colossal cost to the parishioners. It is reliably learnt that you have personally negotiated to buy a plot of land to build another church in the Parolickal area. Our previous vicar has created a concrete jungle in Athirampuzha, and our present vicar built on it, initiating added pollution to the environment and ecosystem. In all the above cases, stealth and secrecy were part of your action plan and treated the parishioners as mere infants. You have sidelined the Pothuyogam, ignored the parishioners and disregarded the affected laity of family units by assuming monopoly over wisdom. You have shown no mercy on the parishioners, who needs to make massive investment for the church, which eventually become multi-crore assets for the Archdiocese. All your activities, rather than bringing the faithful together, make them ineffective and weak. It is true that no force can open the windows of minds that are caged by years of indoctrination, and the faithful do not react to the wrongs because the power of silence is often a prerequisite for survival. But, there will be a time when the ire of the faithful becomes untameable and will erase rifts and restrictions, demolish barriers and obstacles, and cleanse the church hierarchy with unimpeded fervour.
Religious leaders need necessarily be role-models. The Pope expounds this idea when he said, “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility. Without this mask of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of the modern man and risks being vain and sterile”. The countless signs of increasing gracelessness imply that you are becoming a group devoid of compassion and empathy. The church hierarchy has become inflexible and opportunistic with no cohesive vision or ideas to help the deprived. There are no spiritual leadership left in Syro Malabar Church and wherever we gaze, we see ruthless confidence tricksters who deal in deception, untruth and religiosity in the name of God. Pope Francis reminds you to become shepherds in the midst of your people with the smell of your sheep, not the blood of your sheep. When will you uncover the abyss underneath your flawed sense of connection with the faithful?
Jesus was tempted by the devil and the third temptation was the offer of ‘power’. Jesus repudiated it because he had the power within himself. That is why Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you”. He wanted to teach people by example, and not through force and never wanted any dominion on people. Here, you need to make an honest soul-search to find out who you are. Your food is prepared for you at no cost to you, your medical check-ups and medicines are free, you live in a palace like a king but have no financial responsibility for its upkeep, you are freely provided with luxurious places to sleep wherever you go. We, the poor faithful who work for a living, bear your expenses. Satan demanded unconditional submission from Jesus to attain universal dominion. The Syro church has created a new mantra by coalescing the spiritual and material, and found ingenious ways of worshipping both God and Mammon together. The offerings by the faithful are the capital to carry out social activities. You have no claim on it and cannot do anything you wish, since you are living on our alms.
All churches under the archdiocese including the archdiocese should have a budget and all activities should be within the prescribed limits of the budget. Projects that have far-reaching consequences, detrimental to the community, affect environmental conflict or inflict enormous financial burden on the parishioners should get wide consultations and the approval of Pothuyogam. The spiritual nature of the church should reign supreme and a church that is poor and is for the poor, promotes peace and loves and protects creation, must become our credo. Our church is built on the offerings and sweat of the faithful. A financial survey is the need of the time to create a BPL list so that free education and other amenities can be imparted to those in need. We do not need a church in every nook and corner, as with the progress in transportation, the faithful can reach their church of choice in no time. Primarily formed for the power hungry, it is time to do away with the unwieldy church forums and restrict them to a couple. Today, churches have become black holes, attracting everything around with wild force, emitting not even a ray of light to the outside world.
Pope Francis asks you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it. He envisages a poor church and says that our possessions need necessarily be shared with the poor as otherwise it is equivalent to robbing them and depriving them of life. When greediness, arrogance, antagonism, selfishness, insensitivity and other worldly notions continue to disconnect the Syro church from humanity, other living forms and other participants of creation, spiritual fascism takes over. Remember, there is a lot of difference between human being and being humane.
We are all mere visitors to this realm known as Earth and all our actions must be in symmetry with our environment as our welfare is integral with the wellbeing of planet Earth. We need to keep Earth clean and tidy for future generations as we have no other known abodes. You sermonize on the need to keep our abode and its environment unspoiled, but allow your vicars to build concrete monstrosities, knowing well that these activities veer our world into uncharted territory. All these must change. We cannot let our children inherit a world of fanatical intolerance, stinginess of the heart and environmental catastrophe. We must strive to get them a world of rich human values and a world peopled with moral resonance true to their real selves. We, therefore, call for a fresh narrative, a modified approach with a different vocabulary, a compassionate clergy with a refined sense of conscience, a voice of sanity and truthfulness and the right to express with a free mind. Love, compassion and mercy should be our watchwords and the faithful must feel the inimitable tone of empathy in your words and deeds. An act of compassion initiates incessant ripples. We request you to initiate ripples of empathy, mercifulness and care in your actions.
For Conscience of Athirampuzha,