INDIA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY AUGUST 2015 – REALITY CHECK
On 15 August 2015 India celebrates her 69th year of Independence from 200 years of British rule. This coincides with one important piece of news in the Herald Kolkata (August 7-13): Crucial Inauguration of the Pastoral Plan in all 57 parishes and stations of the Archdiocese of Calcutta.
It’s a moment for the Archdiocese of Calcutta and also the Indian Church as a whole, to prepare their own report cards on how free the faithful are from the following social bondages:
· Poverty: to take stock of how the Archdiocese has fared in easing poverty in its parishes
– According to Ela Bhatt, Founder, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): We must recognize that poverty is violence. It is violence perpetuated with the consent of society – a society that is silent or looks the other way in the face of poverty. It is giving consent to exploitation, injustice and war. Poverty strips away a person’s dignity, humanity, it corrodes the human spirit. There is no justification for poverty in India. Poverty and violence are not God made, they are man-made. Poverty and peace cannot coexist. Isn’t Ela Bhatt’s observation somehow diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church’s perception: “Church of the poor, for the poor?”
· Lack of basic education for all Catholics in quality missionary institutions, where the Catholic student population is less than 10%, a misnomer for Minority Institutions. No wonder certain groups are considering moving court to redefine “Minority Institutions” which enjoy tax exemptions at the expense of students from their own community, for whom these institutions were primarily set up.
- Discouragement of and virtual elimination of poor meritorious Catholics from entry into Catholic institutes of higher learning due to exorbitant annual (Rs 50,000) and monthly fees (Rs 5000+) in Self-financed courses (Example : St Xavier’s College, Kolkata).
- Lack of centralised Corpus Fund to support these students. Can Lay organisations take the lead in raising funds to help poor children pursue their studies and provide financial/ material assistance to deserving and meritorious students? Admission for each Catholic child is just one aspect, with so many students vanishing into thin air in secondary classes – no one is bothered to keep track of lost sheep and give them alternative training for livelihood.
- Can they set up Centres of Excellence / Career Guidance / Aptitude Tests, Information and Grievance Redress Cells at the Diocese, Deanery and Parish levels, manned by professionals?
- Oral hire and fire in Catholic institutions demeaning human dignity – The other day Fr. Charles Irudayam, Secretary, CBCI Office for Justice, Peace and Development, during his talk on Catholic Social Teaching – A Call to Social Activism, insisted that human dignity be respected and defended by all in order to live in a peaceful society and explained the church’s concern about human rights. How does the Church bridge the yawning gap between what it preaches and what it practises? Repeated complaints of oral hire and fire at Auxilium Parish Kolkata have fallen on deaf ears.
- Absence of Provident Fund, Medical and Retirement Benefits for employees in most Church institutions
- Lack of basic healthcare particularly in rural areas – According to Dr. Mary D’ Cruz noted Diabetologist, 95% of the world suffers from health problems and therefore health is a major sector that cannot be avoided. Can we promote Preventive Healthcare (Yoga, Swimming, Physical Exercise) in all parishes to reduce overall medical expenses?
- Keeping away the Laity, the fulcrum of the Church, from meaningful participation in the church, including management of Catholic institutions. When will it, pushed aside for years, find its due recognition after launch of the Pastoral Plan?
- Freedom from sycophancy considered a virtue of obedience
- The church authorities’ refusal to reply to letters and emails including brazen refusal to honour written and signed undertakings (Auxilium Parish Kolkata)
- One priest holding onto top archdiocesan finance position for more than two decades. Without a second line of leadership isn’t it inviting catastrophe? Absolute power leads to absolute corruption.
- Need-based Social Development : House-to-house survey of Catholic families to assess lack of basic human amenities, like housing, food, education, sanitation, healthcare, etc. and then draw up intervention strategy. For this creation of parish-wise family database jointly authenticated by PPC and PFC would be necessary.
If the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan is sincerely implemented across the 12 Concerns, with quarterly stock-taking by joint Laity-Clergy teams, there will be more light than shadow situations. Only then we can we say we have attained True Independence.
ISAAC HAROLD GOMES
Member ICPA & ASCC