” He is not avoiding the harsh realities, but telling us to
incarnate yourself into that harsh realities and hope for the best in a
positive way. God is incarnating into the dark human realities. “
Fr George Pattery SJ
Provincial of South Asia
We are facing a real crisis in Indian democracy. All kinds of atrocities are taking place repeatedly. In this context, how do you see Christmas, the birth of God as a human being – the descending of divinity in humanity?
The whole story of incarnation is God accepting the realities of human life in this world. He does not avoid the darkness of this world. He precisely is telling that even in the midst of darkness, there is hope and light for the world. He is not avoiding the harsh realities, but telling us to incarnate ourselves into those harsh realities and hope for the best in a positive way. God is incarnating into the dark human realities.
As we are facing difficulties because of minority status, the mission dimension has been dampened by anti-Christian propaganda. In this context, how is the message of incarnation relevant to India?
In one sense, this kind of atrocity on Christian challenges us to reflect on what truly we are standing for and what is that Christianity should definitely stand for. In that sense it is a good opportunity to be true to ourselves. It is not institutional might and power and it is not security or ritualistic purification that are most important to us. What then is important to us? Becoming human is what divine is. We have to make this world more and more humane, and that is the challenge before us. It is through this kind of atrocities that we get a clarification of what our true mission should be. It is not the protection of institution or the protection of our privileges, but, it is becoming truly the real human, in the true sense of that word and making the world more and more humane, psychologically sound and inclusive.
The Indian constitution envisages a humanism that is very similar to the one envisaged by Christianity. Do you think that the humanism enshrined in the Constitution is being challenged, and even removed? Do you think it is under threat?
It is under threat, and it was always under threat in one sense. Even during the independence struggle, during Gandhi’s time, it was threatened by Hindu Maha Sabha. At that point of time we had good leaders to take forward the constitution. But today they have become powerful enough to stifle the voice of the people. Therefore, now it is more challenging to spread the constitutional values and the human values common to all. In our educational institution we have to introduce a constitutional module and try to teach our children that human rights are very important. These are all our traditional values, and they cannot be compromised. Therefore, our mission should be reoriented towards the protection of human rights and constitutional values. It is basically humane and universal values that we have to follow.
The mindset of the Indian people, especially of the Hindi belt has changed and they have embraced Hindu fundamentalism, which is very akin to fascism. Why is there this tendency in the people to became increasingly communal?
This is a trend that I can see everywhere in the world, in France, in the U.S., in Germany. There is a fascist trend coming up all across the world and the marriage between religious fundamentalism and neo-liberalism is causing an upsurge of fascists tendencies. And the main reason for it is religious identity, which unites people and in the name of religion to propagate their own right wing ideology and right wing neo liberalism. In the recent past, the last 40 years of Indian history, the ruling party did not reach out to the people, especially to people’s basic needs of food, water and shelter. These were not attended to. Therefore, on the one hand people see India has failed and so want to resurrect it as a mighty force through this neo liberalism and religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, India is struggling with vote bank ideology and people are not aware of the impact it can make. The failures in democracy and neo liberalism has created such a situation in the country.
Do you think the Church in India as well as in Kerala is becoming increasingly communal?
Yes! It is a natural reaction to the present situation. This is sad, because we should not respond by becoming more intolerant and communal. We must be just the opposite. That’s why in the post Vatican era we read other scriptures and discuss about inter-religious dialogue. But today, we even don’t want to open scriptures of other religions. We are withdrawing from others, falsely thinking that by that we are protecting our faith. It is a wrong tendency. We need to do much more by leading from the forefront to promote constitutional values and to unite the people. We are doing something minimal in Delhi. In my mind religious fundamentalism and neo liberalism are a passing phenomenon, but how long it will last is hard to tell? Will it last too long? Will it destroy everything? I hope a new saving movement will come up. They don’t want to call it socialism or communism, something else is emerging.
The Church in India is traumatised by scandals within the Church. Do you think the Church is lacking moral courage of leadership?
The Church both in India and abroad is facing some serious problems. The Canon Law has failed, in the sense that we have been always relaying on it, whether in the cases of sexual abuse or of financial mismanagement. There is no provision in the Canon Law to avoid perpetuating the status quo. Therefore, a bishop continues in his position indefinitely without being asked to step down. They blame the Canon Law for it saying its provisions prevent speedy action. The second part is that clericalism is encroaching the Church. The Church is almost identified with clericalism, which acts as a force that perpetuates cases like sexual abuse. I think clericalism is the curse of the Church. For me Christmas should highlight the one point that the crib has no priest – priest-less crib. So I think more and more space in the Church should be given to all and it should not be clerical space. Pope Francis has said that clericalism has to be demolished in order to preserve the identity and true nature of the Church.
Do you think the Old Testament priestly ideas are still very strongly present in India, a priest as a centre of rituals, centre of money and centre of power?
Very much so. I think the Syrian tradition is more in that line. I have talked to the seminarians in the papal seminary, and majority of them wants that kind of a priesthood. They hope for the day when they will be ordained and become part of this powerful clerical cadre. Therefore, I think we have to do a rethink and encourage a new kind of New Testament priesthood. That is the real challenge today the universal Church faces.
There is a renewal movement all over the world, which we call the charismatic movement. Do you see it also as a catalyst for making the Church more communal, more priestly, more clerical and for shrinking back to ourselves rather than going out of ourselves?
Very much so. I think the charismatic movement and evangelical groups are becoming the agents of this kind of ideas. They are spreading a kind of prosperity gospel. If you are a part of these group, you will get prosperity, money, power and position. That kind of prosperity gospel is endangers the Church by enforcing clerical power and privileges. The true nature of priesthood and Christian call is to oppose this kind of superficial charismatic movement.