OPEN LETTER TO CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF INDIA
Can Indian Bishops become aam aadmi shepherds imitating Pope Francis? Church Citizens plead for dialogue & inclusion, their due, in CBCI, through parallel meet, Knanites through prayer march call for expulsion of advocates of pure blood in Kottayam Diocese. Not Rite but be Right!
dr. james kottoor*
The new full form of AAP is: Aam Aadmi Pope. He in fact was the first to herald the dawn of an aam aadmi culture in Vatican and among the high and mighty world leaders. How? Wasn’t he the first to put his foot down and tell all in their face: “Carnival time is over” to sweep out the VVIP, Imperial, pompous culture from the Catholic Church starting with Vatican?
Now the mind boggling challenge hurled at over 200 Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) due to begin their biennial week-long sitting in Palai, Kerala on Feb. 5th is simply this: Become Aaam Aadmi Pastors like Francis or at least hatch out a bunch of aam aadmi pastoral chicks, a la Pope Francis, to replace the royal, imperial, feudalistic, aristocratic, even autocratic, other worldly life style of the Indian Hierarchy totally out of touch with ground realities of the real aam aadmi in India today and modern internet world.
Will their week long sitting succeed to give at least an Aam Aadmi face lift and the much needed structural change to the Indian Episcopal conference? Pappa Francis has been always talking of a “poor church for the poor”. Our bishops surely can do this instantly and at little cost. How? Just imitate the new Political outfit called Aam Aadmi Party (AAP} even if it may look humiliating for those expected to be role models in society. Bowing to truth wherever you find it, is not humiliating, but ennobling. Simply declare and proclaim at the very out set:
“We the Catholic Bishops of India renounce and reject for good the VVIP, flashy, flamboyant culture starting with our addiction to a soothing royal, imperial, godly but outdated honorific titles and appellations like: You Eminence, Your Grace, Your Highness, Your Excellency, Monsignor, Most Rev. Very Rev. Rt. Rev and Rev for the just ordained – all wrong and blasphemous — and the all too costly life style in palaces and moving around in posh cars – even imported bulletproof ones reportedly – and all sorts of dressing up and make up for public display like the newly weds, in silk and satin, gold and silver and matching head gears reminiscent of princes of a dead bygone era, and the company of a coterie of “yes- men” when in public space,” never alone, also for security reasons perhaps.
Ordinaries with Small “o”
Technically and canonically, Bishops are known as “Ordinaries” ” and “Servants of Servants” with capital “O” and “S” It costs far less to become real ordinaries and servants like the rest of us with “o” and “s:” in the lower case. Bishops would then become more Jesus-like who started off his life from a cattle shed. He had no place to lay his head, walked the dusty roads of Palestine dressed like any other Jew though he bitterly criticized the “long tussles” of High priests of his time.. The famous Limousine he borrowed for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem was an Ass and his final crown a ring of thorns, his burial place a borrowed tomb.
Our Bishops could further add: “Call us instead Brother Cardinal, Brother Archbishop, Brother Bishop, Brother Priest only,” since imitating a Barak Obama called “Mr. President” may look too secular for a religious Indian Culture. This is what Kejriwal did when he give up security and Lal Batti culture and won the hearts of the whole nation instantly, nay the whole world. Why? Because what makes more sense for the country bred ordinary people with little or no education is semblance than substance, being carried away as they are, more by out ward appearances. Signs and symbols and body language of leaders who readily mix with them, sit with them, walk with them, listen to them and talk to them from the heart not from the head capture their hearts. Studied speeches delivered with eloquence from distant public podiums will make no sense to them. That is what Pappa Francis means when he says that Bishops should have the “Smell of the sheep” which they cannot have if they are “Airport Port Bishops” more in the air than on earth in their dioceses among their flock.
Francis became an aam aadmi at one shot when he described himself: “I am a Sinner”. How much more could he belittle or humiliate himself before the whole world? He went further to say: it is human not only to make mistakes but even to commit sins, to equate himself or empathize with frail humans. He calls up letter writers of different hue. Tells a pregnant deserted lady, he would baptize her baby when borne, tells a youngster in distress to call him “tu” in the singular to make him feel easy and equal in his company, lives in community in common apartment, serves tea for himself and even for the guard at his door, on travel carries own handbag and queues up to board a plane, delights to visit drug infested slums. Still the wonder is, he is not yet accused of being a “friend of drunkards and prostitutes or insane” as Jesus his Master was accused of in His time. In short humility, simplicity, equality, approachability availability and closeness to the poor (aam aadmi) always with a smiling face everywhere are the hallmarks of his papacy, all of which call for imitation, not imposition, by Bishops in India and else where.
But it looks; Pope’s example has created ripples and responses more outside than inside the Catholic Church. Archbishop Mar Kurillos of Jacobite Church of Thiruvalla, Kerala, in his pastoral letter read in all churches said that the church should say good bye to gold and silver crosses, flag posts, fire works etc. imitating the simplicity of Pope Francis, according to reports. Similarly in the secular domain AAP’s popularity with India’s poor has prompted even rival parties like Congress and BJP to imitate Kejriwal’s example. But none of these seems to have made an impact on the pompous, hierarchical life style in the Catholic Church. This is a serious point for the consideration of the CBCI in Palai.
Church Citizens, not Laity
Besides even ahead of the Palai CBCI meet people from different quarters including the second International telephone conference of Syromalabar Church (SMC) citizens (Laity) held on Jan.24th have raised several pertinent questions and objections to the meet. The common people in the SMC now call themselves “Church Citizens,” since the word “laity” has become obsolete and fraught with various pejorative connotations and insinuations pointing to their lowest status in the Catholic hierarchical ladder, similar to Sudras in Indian Caste system. The low castes are considered good only to be ordered about because of their assumed ignorance, illiteracy, incompetence and slavish attitudes.
Being called, Church citizens puts the laity on a par with bishops, cardinals and Pope. That is what Francis wants them to be. So they ask why they are not part of the Biennial Assembly of the Church in India in Palai. Francis had said it explicitly; the Church should be a communion of all believers — Pope, Bishops and all the faithful. Thinking with the church does not mean thinking with bishops. Infallibility of the church is vested in the whole church, thinking and acting alike in mind and heart. It was to find out the heart beats of ordinary folks on challenges the family faces today that Francis ordered last October an opinion poll at parish level, which is in progress in many countries but not even announced in India. The role of Bishops is that of elected political representatives, to work as servants, not masters. The faithful are the masters, as “We the people” are masters in Indian Democracy. Left to themselves Bishops are like generals who are nothing and can do nothing without the army. So the present gathering of Bishops alone in Palai is a non starter as the assembly of the Church since the laity is and was already acknowledged to be, not only “in the forefront of the church but of being the Church” itself long ago by Pope Pius XII, and confirmed recently by Vatican II.
The second moot question is the theme of the CBCI meet reported as: “Reformed Church reforming society” The phrase “Reformed Church” reminds one of the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple. It is an insult to the intentions, intelligence and explicit statement of Vatican II which says unequivocally that the Church is and has to be always in dire need of reform (Semper Reformanda is the phrase used). So the theme is a non-starter too. First the church has to put its own house in order before thinking of the society outside which is ahead of the church, by 200 years as observed by late cardinal of Milan, in thinking, dialoguing, discussing trough teleconferences and taking joint decisions fast using modern technologies of communication.
Ideal Reformed Church
Journey towards the ideal reformed church is going to be a very tedious long, long, thousand times long journey to the roots of Christianity, to those utopian apostolic times when they had everything in common. In those days each one worked according to his capacities and got according to his needs and therefore no one was in need or want in the community. It was the beginning of Christian Communism, when all did what they said: “All that is mine is yours” unlike present day communists who say: “All that is yours is mine,” as stated by famous Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of revered memory.
In such a Church the present day spiritual leaders – Bishops and priests or the so-called clergy – would confine themselves to prayer, preaching and moral guidance only without fear or favour (Contemplata tradere = handing over what they absorbed through contemplation) and never touch money to fight the “Idolatry of Money” in Francis’ words. Money matters to take care of the material needs of the poor, orphans and widows would instead be handled by seven or more honest experts prayed over and chosen, as it used to be in the Apostolic Church. At present we can only prayerfully dream of, and hope against hope that this utopia comes true one day. Only none of us alive today may live to see it happen.
Spreading Good News or Rite?
Two other moot questions pestering the Indian Church and SMC in particular are: 1. The Rite question, 2. Defining the concept of evangelisation. Both need elaborate discussion, not possible here. As for Rites, any Rite is all right, but the craze for promoting one’s own Rite is disastrous, as bad as creating divisions untold in the place of unity of all followers dreamt of and prayed for by Jesus. It is as bad as promoting religious colonies and territorial out posts and safe zones as the be-all and end-all of all Rites forgetting Jesus’ words: ”My kingdom is not of this world.” It is on the same footing as the universally accepted scandal called: “Divided churches”, diametrically opposed to the will and prayer of Jesus who built no church of brick and mortar but predicted the downfall of their only Jerusalem temple built by human hands, as a forewarning to temples yet to be built by brick and mortar.
To replace it he also predicted: “Destroy this temple; I will replace it in three days.” He did it with his resurrection and all through life he was busy building and repairing, not divisive immovable temples, but living, walking temples of flesh and blood – healing the sick, blind, lame, paralyzed, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, oppressed and outcast. They belonged to all sections of humanity, but hardly to his own Jewish blood group which today is promoted under the guise of Community, Patriarchy, Rite etc. After Syromalabar and Syromalankara, we may now have to invent new names like Syro-Knana, Syro-Americana, Syro-Australiana, and Syro-Euro and all such Syros to finally end up in a Zero-Gulf or watery grave. Personally I can give only that much importance to Rite question.
Secondly what are these divided churches, especially of the CMC variety preoccupied with? Multiplying own brand of parishes, dioceses in all continents — in US, in Australia, in Middle East, in Europe, raising funds in Euro and $ to buy own posh headquarters very near to the power centre in Vatican? In doing this are they spreading the “odour of Jesus” or the suffocating stench of a particular church-brand, and acting like “I am of Peter,” “I am of Paul”? Is this evangelisation meant to spread the good news of “glory to God in the highest and peace to men of good will” world wide in the fraternal unity of all humans or is it not promoting divisive tendencies, nay divisions within subdivisions endless as in our accursed caste system? These are explosive issues or time bombs, which if not checked in time, are bound to explode smashing to smithereens all tall claims these divisive forces are indulging in as a sport of kite flying.
In any case the thinking sections of Church citizens, at least in the SMC in US and Kerala seem to be very much exercised over these issues and are going ahead with or without the bishops, as the latter has refused even to enter into a dialogue with them in spite of their honest efforts over more than one month. So parallel meetings and prayer processions of Church citizens are being planned by a Knanaya group on Feb.7th in Palai demanding ouster of Kottayam Diocese from the Catholic community for practising endogamy (purity of blood) which is against 1. Teachings of Jesus, 2. Church laws, 3. Human rights and another, a two day seminar in Ernakulam, Feb.8— 9 of Church Citizens excluded from the CBCI meet to plan out future strategy including establishing direct hot line with the easily approachable Francis Papa to revive vertical dialogue gone extinct and harmony in place of in-fighting in the SMC. So the coming days are going to be challenging times of prayer, frantic search and honest introspection to find the right path for the growth of true discipleship in Jesus for all church citizens.
Jkottoor@asiantindia.com , Mob. 9446219203
*Dr. James Kottoor, is former editor of The New Leader (Chennai) Catholic weekly.