India: Rent-a-priest, a blessing for the ostracized Kerala | India News

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Thiruvananthapuram: When Basanio Louise's father-in-law died on the eve of Maundy Thursday, two years ago, he had a serious problem to solve. Due to problems that his family and other parishioners in Balaramapuram had with the diocese of Thiruvananthapuram the local church refused to perform the last sacraments or even to bury the body.

"They made me run everywhere to ask permission for the funeral ceremony. I even went to Bishop's House in Neyyatinkara but to no avail. Finally, we buried my father-in-law Maniyan in the churchyard graveyard without any ceremony, which was heartbreaking for the family, but also for the entire community, "said Basanio.

It was March 2017. People like Basanio, a wall painter who also does other odd jobs, who have been practically ostracized by the Church have an option. They can "praise" a priest so that they too can hold ceremonies related to birth, death and marriage according to the Christian faith and the sacraments. They can turn to dozens of priests who are part of the open church movement.

"The denial of various rituals such as Holy Communion, marriage, or the home heating ritual was effectively used against believers if they challenged the Church. That's when we decided to offer ready-to-rent services. Former priests and nuns have agreed to offer services and this has been a major relief for believers who have questioned the Church and are suffering the consequences, "said Reji Njallani, President of the Open Church Movement.

The movement was founded in 2014 when about 600 former priests and nuns from all over the country - who were expelled or who chose to leave their congregation - attended a meeting convened by Njallani. One of them was Joseph J. Pallath, aged 72, expelled from the Society of Jesus in 2000. He was the first state priest to protest his dismissal. He then directed an individual agitation of 44 days demanding compensation from the president. Church. Now, Pallath is back as a priest in the Open Church movement. In January, he wore his clothes again to organize the holy feast at San Sebastián Church in Balaramapuram.

The Latin Archdiocese of Neyyantikara and the parish church of Balaramapuram were at odds over the property of about 18 acres of land and the archdiocese kept the church closed for about 10 months. At the time of the annual festival, the parish approached the movement of the open church and Pallath to organize the party.

Pallath said he was unemployed and penniless when he was deported. "I was one of the first people to get a doctorate in anthropology in that state. During my priesthood, I had left an educational institution to perform social services. However, when I asked myself about a corrupt land agreement of the Church, I was asked to leave. Expelled priests and nuns are the most stigmatized community, "he said.

The situation was similar for Maria Thomas, now secretary of the Association of Former Priests and Sisters, when she left her congregation in 1999, after 20 years. "Social stigma is a major problem for priests and nuns who resign or leave. It is very difficult to find a job or a partner at this age. In most cases, families too are not ready to accept you, "she said.

Njallani says that the movement is not against the Church, but only to correct the wrongdoing. "We are a group of strong believers whose goal is to correct the community every time the church moves away from its true principles," said Njallani.

The movement is ready to question various unethical practices of the Church, such as attempts to conceal sex crimes and pedophilia. The movement is also preparing to demand severance pay for priests and nuns, when they are expelled without ceremony or forced to leave their congregation. They will demand that their "service" is also subject to the state labor laws. "The open church movement requires equal participation of priests and nuns, challenges centuries-old traditions and calls for church changes over time," said Maria Thomas, Kannur-based .

This article appeared first (in English) on THE TIMES OF INDIA