The spirit of that “miracle of humility in an era of vanity” (Elton John’s classic description of Pope Francis) is spreading to the whole world like an irresistible contagion but not to the fool proof, change-resistant Indian Churches! Why?
Don’t fool yourself. It has crossed the Hymalayas and already reached the Malabar cost. It is already time to say: Congrats and Thanks to the Supreme Head of Syro-Malabar Church, for calling a spade a spade like Francis, for calling it “a Cardinal Sin”, the fabulous, reckless spending of Rs.30 to 50 crores to build an ‘Eye-sore” for the poor of Yahweh, not of course to the well-heeled, to whom it’s an awe inspiring architectural wonder called: St.George’s Forane Church, Edappally. Pope Francis, with his classic papal election call: “a poor Church for the poor” has finally reached Kerala coast in the person of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry. May it also catch up with the trinity of Churches (three Rites making one Catholic Church) in India!
Quoting the Cardinal the Indian Express of May 11th ran the headline: Building Luxurious Churches a ‘Cardinal’ Sin to be shunned. Times of India also reported it and Mangalam, the Malayalam Daily of 11th had it as its first banner front page headline saying: Edappally Church’s howling Example of prodigal spending, shocks even Church Leadership. Various reports give various amounts as the total cost incurred. The Malayalam daily added: For the first time in Kerala Church history, the supreme head of SMC publicly criticized the callousness of spending precious money of the poor to build a posh church to exhibit pomp and money power.
In an act of Self criticism the Ernakulam SM Cardinal said, profligate spending and luxury should be avoided while constructing new churches and noted Edappally church went overboard in spending. “It is a sin before God if the money offered by faithful is used for luxury instead of utilising it for social welfare projects or to help the needy,” he said. Recently he is also reported to have said that fire works involving parade of light and sound, fire and smoke during church festivals and processions through public road causing traffic jam are also to be stopped.
“What are our church festivals,” asks some one, “except light and sound and smoke for God in the heavens and liquor and associated tasty bites at parties on earth for man? Don’t ever try to open the eyes of those blind or deaf to Christian faith by carrying flood lights in procession trough public roads causing traffic jam and exploding deafening fireworks in the sky. They are no substitute to Christian witnessing in word and deed.” The irony is, the Edappally church happens to be built in the name of St.George, deleted from the official list. Not withstanding that, may the exemplary leadership set by Cardinal Alancherry in speaking and acting publically for Jesus like simplicity, spread like wild fire among bishops in all three Rites and turn into ashes all unchristian, worldly or profane religious practices for the sake of “a poor church for the poor”.
Consecrated on Birthday
The consecration of the Forane Church was done on April 19th the 70th Birthday of Cardinal Alancherry. The original church situated nearby is considered to be built in 6th century.The ceremony was followed by a public meeting that was inaugurated by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the presence of Kerala’s political class and a large crowd of devotees and sight seers. Considered to be the biggest in Asia, the construction of the church began in January 2000, after Syro-Malabar Church’s former head Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil laid the foundation stone, which was blessed by Pope John Paul-II. For the construction of their dream Church, the organizers chose the best architect from among 53 competitors on the national level.
“With a total built-up area of more than 88,000 sqft, the new church is one of the biggest in Asia. Around 5,000 to 8000 people can attend worship at a time in the new church. The building, conceived in octagonal shape, has three levels. The ground floor has an area of 1 9,500 sqft, where a chapel for perpetual adoration, offices, conference facilities and multi-purpose halls are set up. There is a 1300-sqft garden in front of the church” according to the Indian Express report. Malayalam daily Mangalam says it has a height 146 feet covering an area of 85,116 sq.feet and says: Instead of making it a place of peaceful worship, they made it eye-popping posh architectural extravaganza.
In this context it is good to reflect on the RELEVANCE — place and purpose — of church buildings among the so-called followers of Jesus. I purposely avoid the use of the phrase “among Christians”. Christians are identified by the various churches or congregations they are part of and reportedly there are over 2000 churches which speak volumes how churches are divided and therefore are called the biggest scandal of the century. Jesus prayed (Jn.17) that all his followers may be one in thought, word and deed as he was one with his father in loving union. But followers of Jesus are to be found not only in the 2000 odd churches but also outside these churches belonging to other religions or to no religion in particular. Therefore followers of Jesus are bigger in number than those who call themselves Christians and belong to various churches.
Jesus never Built any Church
In fact Jesus never built any church. Nor did he ask his followers to build churches for worship. When his disciples called his attention to look at the huge stones with which Jerusalem temple was built (That was the architectural wonder of his times) he told them flatly: Not a stone upon a stone will be left in tact. When the woman at the well asked Jesus where the Jews worshiped: “In that temple or this, on that mountain or this?” Jesus’ answer was: “Time has come to worship God in spirit and truth in the cave of one’s own heart, and not on that temple or this.” Neither did Jesus go to any temple to pray. He went there to teach and chase out buyers and sellers. To pray he went in search of solitudes on mountain tops. In fact his instruction to all was to pray in silence closing all the five doors of our senses.
The one prayer he taught was to be said in the family: “Our Father Who art in heaven, Thy Kingdome come here on earth as it is in heaven.” So if he envisioned any church it was the family made up of Father mother and children, which is called the Domestic Church today on the micro level, and on the macro level, the all embracing Human Family under the Fatherhood of one God and brotherhood of all humans who are to strive to become humane humans or good Samaritans like himself going around doing good — seeking the hungry to feed, the sick to heal, the afflicted to comfort, the sinners to pardon.
He presented himself as the ideal Son of Man (85 times in the Gospels), as the visible expression of the invisible God the Father of all. The name of our God is MERCY – heard repeated so often during the Rome Synod on Family — who knows not to punish but only to pardon. He is never tired of pardoning; it is we who are tired of asking pardon. So if Jesus ever started any religion, it was the religion of humane humanity, which includes all and excludes none, or as Nrayana Guru expressed, a community of those who believe in: One God, one religion and one caste, the human caste.
Jesus lived and died a Jew
So Jesus did not start a new religion called Christianity. Nay he lived and died a Jew, never became a Christian either. INRI (Jesus Nazarene King of Jews) was the epitaph on top of his cross. There are any number of theologians today who argue that Jesus never founded a new religion, never ordained any priestly class to offer an un-bloody sacrifice, never instituted any of the seven sacraments, never set up the present pyramid like hierarchical system with Pope at the pinnacle and people (like Sudras in the Indian Caste system) at the very bottom. In fact, He turned it upside down when he knelt down to wash the feet of Peter, the first Pope.
These are all unchristian imperial additions ever since the take over of the Church by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Ever since we have the Big divide in the Catholic church between the traditionalists opposed to all change (Semper Idem = No change whatever) and the progressives (Ecclesia simper reformanda or constant change called for), between people who want equality, not hierarchy in the Church and vice versa, between those who argue there is no divide between the much talked about teaching and learning churches. The teaching church has to listen humbly to those below to learn and those on the ground should teach those above with their raw lived experience. This is what is discussed and analysed by Pope Francis during the current two year study of the challenges faced by families around the world.
So, as far as church buildings are concerned, what may be suggested as an emergency step to start with is, a moratorium on all new church buildings for the next three years and to concentrate on building up Christian families, called Domestic Churches. One has to be as universal as Jesus was, embracing the entire Human Family without restricting oneself to Christians only, to avoid the pitfall of promoting a “ghetto Catholicism”, a contradiction in terms. During colonial times one spoke of the duties of conquering nations as those of “humanizing”, “Civilizing” and “Christianising”. What is essential is to be a true follower of Jesus. For that it would be more than enough to be a civilized human being. Jesus was nothing more than that to all..
In this sense the Consecration of St.George Church Edappally and the Plain speaking by Cardinal Alanchery echoing the spirit of Pope Francis raises more questions than answers. Therefore, won’t it be right and proper, for the whole Church in India to declare a moratorium on new churches made of brick and mortar and concentrate on repairing and rebuilding ever so many domestic churches of flesh and blood going to pieces because of the too many unforeseen challenges facing families today. That way at least the Church in India would be contributing something tangible and practical for the happy conclusion of the Ordinary Synod on Family this coming October.
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