(Note: Chhotebhai is a well-known sharp-witted writer in religion and politics and needs no introduction. But the relevance of the message he conveys to the worshipers of the Red beacon and Red hat should not be missed by any.
Thinking of the bishops: even today bishops think that they alone make up the church not the laity. Why was the meet, not publicized? Because none of them believe in transparency, or imitate Jesus saying: “I have said everything in public….. ask those who heard me.” Also because they have too many things to hide. So they imitate Nichademus who met Jesus under cover of darkness.
As for the Roman regalia of crimson red sashes and skull caps read CCV posting April 22nd: Good-bye to Red light, lal batti in country When to red hats & purple glare in Church? Just think of the red rag that makes bulls to run wild to gore the one holding the rag. If the laity before whom it is paraded do no harm to the bishops we have to thank God for it. We have to wake the bishops to this possibility for their safety.
This scribe totally agree with his statement on late bishop George Saupin SJ of Daltonganj, who used to be described as “Curta sporting, cycle pedalling, beedi smoking bishop”, for which other bishops in Roman regalia used to avoid him. I experienced it when attending a meeting to report on Evangelization seminar in Delhi presided over by Bishop Saupin. We all have to pray very hard to shower India with such saintly bishops hardly seen anywhere today.
This article by chhotebhai abounds with quotes from scripture and scripture scholars besides concrete facts to clinch his point. Therefore it is worth meditating prayerfully for long and storing it for future reference. God bless Chhotebhai and our bishops so that they may get enlightened. There is nothing impossible with God. james kottoor, editor).
Last week the Prime Minister dramatically announced that red beacons would be removed from the cars of netas and babus. The gullible junta applauded. What the PM did not say was whether the hooters/ sirens on these vehicles and their escorts, with which they cut a swathe through dense traffic, would also be dispensed with. If not, this would be one more case of empty rhetoric, as with demonetisation and black money.
What really made me see red was the picture of some of our Catholic bishops of U.P. smiling endearingly while meeting Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister (CM) of U.P. I first saw the report in the Hindustan Times on 22nd April. Shortly thereafter a friend in Rome sent me the photo. I subsequently saw the same photo with a report in Matters India. By then the photo had gone viral on social media. The photo has the tag line in Hindi “UPCM Sri Yogi Adityanath Isai Dharamguruon ke ek prathinidhimandal se bath karte huey” (U.P. CM Sri Yogi Adityanath meeting with a delegation of Christian religious leaders). The words “Catholic’ and “bishops” are missing. In all likelihood then, the photo was released by the U.P. Govt, and not the bishops. So who won the PR exercise? The CM; and the loser is the Christian community, for reasons that I shall enumerate.
Why did I see red, or feel that the Christians of U.P. have been given short shrift? Firstly, in the composition of the delegation. Secondly, for the secrecy with which this “tryst” took place. Thirdly, for the manner in which the bishops presented themselves. And finally, because we don’t really know what transpired in the meeting, and what was its outcome. There are 9 Catholic dioceses in U.P. from which 7 bishops attended. Meerut and Jhansi were missing in action.
As I said, my first objection is to the composition of the delegation. It was in no way representative of the church in U.P. Catholics are not more than 25% of the Christian population. In my hometown Kanpur there are only 4126 Catholics (2013 statistics) out of a reported 55,000 Christians. The rest are Protestants or Evangelicals. The bishops did not also deem it fit to involve the laity in the delegation or the strategy that should have been adopted. This despite U.P. having produced three National Presidents of the All India Catholic Union in the recent past, even though the State has but a miniscule 1:160 Catholics of India. Interestingly none of the bishops of U.P. actually belong to the State, something the shrewd CM would have noticed from their names and accents. So who were they representing?
My second objection is the secrecy in which this meeting was shrouded, thereby raising suspicions about what the actual agenda was. Why weren’t the other stake holders consulted about the need, if at all, of such a meeting, the composition of the delegation, and the issues to be raised? I find the whole exercise highly objectionable. Jesus himself had advised that we should strategise and assess our strengths before engaging a powerful opponent (cf Lk 14:28-33), lest we become a laughing stock.
My third objection is the manner in which the bishops presented themselves, with their Roman regalia of crimson red sashes and skull caps. This too when the PM was saying that the common man was the VIP, and there would be no red beacons, a colonial vestige of privilege. What impression would these red caparisoned bishops have left on the “ascetic” CM? I am a strong believer in being an Indian Christian, not a Latin, Roman, or Syro-Malabari one.
My favourite bishop was the late George Saupin SJ of Daltonganj (Indira Gandhi hated his guts during the Emergency). He always wore a plain kurta-pyjama (KP) with an angochha (head scarf) thrown loosely around his neck, not unlike the saffron angochhas that have become the rage in the post-Yogi era. When he was in Khandwa Bp Abraham Viruthukulangana sported a grey coloured KP. The former bishop of Udaipur, Joseph Pathalil also wore a KP. The former CNI bishop of Delhi, Pritam Santram wore a saffronish robe with a wooden cross. Could not our bishops have presented themselves in a manner with which the CM would have been more amenable? Pope Francis is crying himself hoarse about simplicity of life, but this doesn’t seem to impact our bishops. It reminds me of an anecdote told to me by the late Fr Dhiranand Bhatt (nee Alva) then Rector of St Joseph’s Regional Seminary, Allahabad.
About two centuries ago some Anglican missionaries in Bengal had converted many Hindus, Brahmins included. So some of the leaders were worried when they heard that the Anglican bishop would now be visiting Calcutta. How many more would he convert? The bishop duly arrived with all his red paraphernalia and entourage in a stately carriage. The Brahmins rubbed their hands in glee. Indians are used to seeing religious leaders as ascetics. They would not be taken for a ride in the red liveried carriage! A lesson worth recording.
The fourth, and possibly most damaging part of the Episcopal tryst with the yogi, is the agenda. We can only go by the media reports, as I have not seen any official handout by the bishops. Nor have they rebutted the media reports, so I am constrained to conclude that they are correct. This was a “courtesy” visit! Haha. There was a request for protection. Crazy, isn’t this our constitutional right? We don’t have to beg for it. By grovelling in front of the CM we have increased his stature, and decreased our own. Was any memorandum submitted? If so what was its contents? Was it written in Hindi, or perhaps English, Latin, Syrian or Malayalam? Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that meeting.
There are two little giveaways from the bishops. One was about interference by the local administration in our educational institutions. Read “Every sarkari babu wants his/ her quota for admissions”; and this is admission season. What could have been the CM’s response? “I will look into it. Nobody can take the law into his own hands”. This, coming from a person who has often enough in the past done exactly that. As my journalist son observed “How naïve can we get”?
The second indication is about an incident of harassment of a church where some Americans were present, that was allegedly attacked by the CM’s very own Hindu Yuva Vahini. Will he rein them in? Going by increasing instances of vigilantism, I have my doubts.
When the bishops spoke about freedom to practice our faith did they refer to propagation, or proselytisation, as it is sometimes called? Some evangelical churches in particular (not the staid Catholic Church or its bishops) are hell bent on proselytisation, regardless of the consequences, or the security threat to the neo-converts; often leaving them at the mercy of the vigilantes. It reminds me of Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees, “You travel over land and sea to make a single proselyte, and any one who becomes one you make twice as fit for hell as you are” (Mat 23:15).
I dug deeper. According to the “Dictionary of the Bible” (DOB) by Rev John McKenzie SJ “proselyte” comes from the Greek word “proselytos” which means “one who approaches”. In today’s parlance it would be a “seeker”. We need to understand why Jesus himself was against proselytisation. A proselyte was a Gentile convert to Judaism. Such a person accepted Judaism in its entirety; which included circumcision, ritual bathing, animal sacrifice, and even the renunciation of wife and family.
The DOB says that “When the Jews of the Diaspora spread out over the Hellenistic world; they began to present their religion in a way that was attractive to their neighbours. This was due not only to religious zeal, but also by a desire to create friendly relations in the foreign cities in which they lived” (Pg 699). “You travel over land and sea to make a single proselyte, and any one who becomes one you make twice as fit for hell as you are” (Mat 23:15).We are further told that not many Gentiles were “able to make such a violent change in their lives”.
On the other hand there was another category of “seekers”, whom Jesus himself referred to as “those who fear God”. They accepted the morality of the Judaic laws, including monotheism, but not the externals like circumcision. Is there a lesson in this for us? Should over zealous evangelists ask the “seekers” of today to abandon their culture and heritage? Should we insist on baptism?
In Varanasi there is Matridham Ashram headed by Acharya Anildev of the Indian Missionary Society, a Catholic religious order. Thousands of “seekers” come there to hear the Word of God. Several experience miraculous healing and the power of the Holy Spirit. Their faith is so strong that they give up social evils like drinking and domestic violence. Hundreds of them fast throughout the Lenten period. They are known as “Khrist Bhakts”. They are neither baptised nor uprooted from their cultural milieu.
Most of Paul’s converts in Antioch, Iconium, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Corinth etc were not proselytes, but “those who fear God”. Even Peter’s first gentile convert, Cornelius of Joppa (cf Acts 10:2-22) was not a proselyte.
In fact in circa 132 AD Hadrian banned circumcision, bringing an end to “proselytisation”. Is history repeating itself with the present dispensation threatening to ban conversions? Is the Lord saying something to us in these unfolding events? Surely our Catholic bishops are familiar with the history of the early church. So “what is the Spirit saying to the churches?” (Rev 3:22). I suspect that he did not prompt them to go and meet the CM, with or without their red regalia.
Before I end I must say that some of the bishops who met the CM are persons with whom I have shared a warm personal relationship for several years. I also have many good friends among evangelical Christians. They may be hurt by this article. I have no intention of doing so. But as Jesus said, one cannot be his disciple “unless he loves me more than his father, mother, wife, children …” (Lk 14:26). So I hope and pray that my friends will pardon me for seeing red about the bishops seeing the yogi.
I recall that when we had a massive Dalit Christian rally at the Boat Club lawns in Delhi on 17/8/1990 we went to meet Prime Minister V.P. Singh in his chamber in Parliament. As soon as the towering figure of Abp Angelo Fernandes of Delhi entered the chamber the PM stood up to welcome him. My friend David Kandathil from Kerala tells me that his great grand uncle Mar Augustine Kandathil (1874 – 1956) was the first Syro-Malabar archbishop of Ernakulam. The erstwhile Raja and PM of Travancore (before Kerala State was formed) would go to meet him, and not the other way around. Would that our well read (pun intended) bishops learnt the lessons of history before embarking on another clandestine tryst with political leaders.
The writer was National President of the All India Catholic Union from 1990-94.