Palai Meet – the Laxman Style – Issac Gomes

Dr. James Kottoor must be congratulated on presenting our bishops virtually in R.K. Laxman style! What happened at Palai is given below:

The 187 member-bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in their XXXI Plenary Assembly held at Palai Kerala in February 2014, issued their Final Statement covering the following issues:

1. The Church exercises her mission in a world marked by a tremendous imbalance: a few very rich and the vast majority poor struggling to eke out a living. The Document on the Church in the Modern World, impels the members of the Church to an involvement in the effective social dialogue to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
– CBCI has not spelt out how it proposes to close this ever-widening gap.

2. The Council document on the Laity points out that the lay faithful have a specific role in society – that of penetrating and perfecting the temporal order in the spirit of the Gospel.
This statement is hazy. Does it mean sharing of the riches of the church including administration of its institutions with the laity, its co-partner? Will the Church hierarchy decide on the Laity’s role? Or will the Laity which constitutes 80% of the Church arise and decide itself?

3. Corruption plaguing every sphere of society of our country: In such a scenario, Church institutions must be an example of transparency and probity.
For “transparency and probity” first all parishes have to disclose their income & expenses, receipt of donations, disbursal of sponsorship and all assets to their parishioners. At present this is not being done by most parishes. Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) and Parish Finance Committee (PFC) as mandated by Vatican II have to be transparently installed in each parish in India within a given time-frame. Most parishes in India do not have these basic structures in place. How many Catholic institutions will disclose the number of Catholic/Christian students which is far below the norm specified by the Supreme Court of India? Instead of serving its own minority students, our institutions are catering to the 90% majority. A systematic entry-bar has been created by our top-notch missionary institutions through increasingly high fees which most Catholic families cannot afford even after getting concessions. The church authorities have conveniently forgotten that our missionary institutions were founded championing the cause of providing quality education to our own minority children. For this “Minority Institution” status and various exemptions were obtained from the government.

4. Participatory structures have been established in several regions, dioceses and parishes. Youth have experienced empowerment through training programs and services.
These structures, training programs and instances of empowerment have not been specified. The Laity could draw upon these success stories. At least in Bengal youth empowerment is make-believe – everything depends on the whims and fancies of parish priests. No authentic statistics, not even from Calcutta Archdiocese, is available on youth development.

5. For this, our liturgies have to be well prepared, participative and meaningful.
Most of our liturgies are stereotyped and the sermons without substance. In this age of communication, priests and religious need regular courses in oratory skills and in public relation.

6. We will so orient the formation of future priests and religious that they enter the ministry with an attitude of humility, ready to serve the poor and marginalized of society.
– For this there is an urgent need, as Pope Francis said in Rome on 23 February 2014, to undergo a “heartfelt conversion: this is something that all of us – especially you Cardinals and myself – must do. Conversion!” Until and unless cardinals, bishops, priests and religious lead by example and shed their CEO air, youth participation and vocation might come to a standstill.

7. We will speak out against all forms of injustice meted out to them (marginalized and exploited) and we will defend their rights. We listened to the call of Pope Francis urging us to “work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor.”
CBCI should do without jargons and come clear on how it intends to eliminate structural causes of poverty and promote integral development of the poor. In keeping with its statement 5.vi. on Promoting Dialogue, It may come down from its high pedestal and consult Dr Ela Bhatt, founder of Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) who said “We need to recognise that poverty is violence. Poverty is perpetuated with the consent of society.”

8. Ensuring for our lay faithful their rightful place: Recognizing the God-given talents and potentialities of the lay faithful, we will, in the first place, listen more to their voice. Hence, we commit ourselves to establish Pastoral Councils in every diocese.
It is presumed every diocese is a typographical error and actually means every parish. Surprisingly there is no mention of Parish Finance Committees without which “transparency and probity in church institutions” will be like building castles in the air.

9. Stamping out Discrimination against Women: We will do all in our power to enforce discipline so as to ensure a secure environment in our institutions for women and children.
For this first Vishaka Guidelines have to be put in place in all our institutions which employ women. This needs to be followed by teaching children and women child rights, identifying and warding off possible threats of abuse & exploitation and self-defence.

10. Creating a Christian presence in political and public life. We depend in a special way on our youth, the future leaders of the Church and society. As bishops we realize much more needs to be done for them. We want to embark on intensive programmes for them to enter into the mainstream of public life so as to ensure value-based politics. Hence, we request every region to set up, wherever possible, training centres to prepare the youth for leadership roles in civic and political life.
Only wanting will not do. For this a centralised CBCI-led mechanism has to be set up to render assistance to meritorious students through a CBCI Corpus fund, to pursue professional courses like IAS, Judiciary, CA, MBA, Medicine, etc. This financial assistance will be returnable in easy installments after getting jobs which will fetch at least Rs 50,000 per month. For the youth to flourish, each parish needs to set up study centres, spot and encourage talent. Only with professional qualification tempered with spirituality, our youth can serve the nation better. If well-qualified catholic youths enter politics, as encouraged by our Pope, all the more better.

Sector-wise and diocese-wise data/ mapping (education, health, housing, community-development) of development including areas which need urgent attention would have added objectivity to the CBCI Statement. The bishops deserve kudos for their sincere deliberations. Networking among bishops would go a long way towards implementation and impact study of the above resolutions.

Isaac Gomes
Kolkata

About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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