Edappally St.George Forane Church
Cardinal Calls it Cardinal Sin!
Jesus never built any Church with brick and mortar. He was constantly busy building living churches made of flesh and blood – feeding, healing and caring(Mt.25,35-37) – building what we call today domestic churches made up of temples of the Holy Spirit. So why not declare a moratorium on putting up lifeless architectural wonders?
dr. james kottoor
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! All seem to say. Why?
Oh no! 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 (SMC), 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 worldly 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 (Excuse me for not calling him as “His Beatitude” imitating Bishop Angadiath. It is “blasphemy” for me). May the Cardinal’s example catch up with the trinity of Churches (three Rites making one Catholic Church) in India!
Quoting the Cardinal the New 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 after all our church festivals,” asks a sober critique, “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, a saint 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 New Indian Express report. Malayalam daily Mangalam says it has a height 146 feet covering an area of 85,116 sq.feet and adds: “Instead of making it a place of peaceful worship, they made it an 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 to pray, 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 Jesus himself going around doing good (cf.Last Judgement Mt.25,35-37) — 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 that God who is 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 a 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 to prove 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.
What we see today are all unchristian imperial additions ever since the take over of the Church by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. From that time onwards, 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 is 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, or what John Henry Newman had called the “third magisterium” — the experience of the laity — which forms the sensus fidelium on which church doctrine is ultimately grounded.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, 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, the Ideal Son of Man.
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. Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org
++++++++++++++++++++++ Published in http://www.almayasabdam.com,(Church Citizen’s Voice) May 13th, Kerala, Emalayalee, NY, Malayalam Daily News, NY. Joychenputhukulam, Chicago, MattersIndia (Asia’s largest church: A ‘cardinal sin’? May 13th), New Delhi, Indian Currents(May 25) New Delhi,
1.From: Joseph Mattam sj, May 15/5/15
As usual, an excellent piece and much needed; I too saw some extravagant xhur ches all over; they spend crores now for a church. In your article, perhaps you could also have mentioned that many people, for whom Jesus cared, have no roof over their heads; it is more urgent to build houses for the people than expensive churches for God. Glad you continue writing. Keep going. God bless, Joe
2.From: Denis Daniel , email@example.com
Denis Daniel, May 16th 2015, Heartiest congratulations!
Dear Dr. Kottoor,
I have just read Asia’s largest church: A Cardinal Sin. All your writings have been brilliant. At 78 when physically I feel quite incapable the only possibility remains that I employ somebody to read to me all that flows out of your pen. I have been reading your writings when I was around 28 years of age. The freshness is still there, in fact with greater depth and inspirational qualities. You are doing immense good to an ordinary reader like me. Thanks! Denis Daniel.
3.Jose Kallidukil, May, 22/15
Dear James Chettan, It is an excellent article with exact facts and information. I still have doubts about the honesty of Cardinal Alencherry. However his open criticism against such wasteful extravaganza will certainly make our Priests and parishioners rethink before venturing into similar architectural adventures. Look at the Guruvayur and Sabirimala temples. Both are among the richest temples in India attracting many lakhs of devotees each year from all over India and even abroad. In spite of that the original structure of those centuries old temples remain same. They don’t attempt any expensive remodeling or renovations, but just maintain its old glory. Hope our Catholic Bishops and Priests will learn something from their Hindu counterparts. Jose, Chicago,USA
4.From: Larry Carney, May 23/2015
James,I agree. I also see a similar secular problem of over-concern for historical structures, as in Syria and Iraq right now. Our Western Media (U.S.?) constantly plays up the destruction there by ISIS. While I hate to see all that happening, I never see them expressing concern over the millions of people killed by our desire for Empire and control everyone and everything. (and I’m an American!) Thanks for insights from India.Larry Carney
5.From: Mathew N.J. May 23/15
Dear Mr. James,
As I see it is the consumerism culture behind it which should be objected first. But India being an under developed country it is just entering that phase and Kerala with all the Money Order monies is bound to lead that phase and Syro Malabarees are showing that.
True follower, in any part of the world, should learn to be above that. Then there is the vested interest of parishioners who are contractors, materiel suppliers etc. who will lobby for such wasteful expenditure by the Churches. Overcoming all these is a tough task for the ‘Parish Committee’/good priest. With best wishes and prayers. Mathew N J (from USA)
6. Philo Thomas, May 23/15
The Cardinal is too late to comment on this edifice. I am sure this church is under his jurisdiction so he must have been aware of the plan of construction. He should have stalled the plan earlier. Now
let this white elephant be the perennial eye sour for him as a reminder of his delayed decisions and interventions.
7. Al Dcosta, May 23/15
Very well written. Its so obvious that we have deviated from the original – but too blind to see the difference.
While no one denies that believers need a place for fellowship and prayer, we have joined the mad race and compete with the other to build a ‘more gorgeous’ House of God. St Stephen said in Acts 7 : 48-50, “The Most High God does not live in temples made with hands!”and quoted Isaiah 66: 1-2 “For Heaven is My throne and Earth itself is My footstool! Therefore what house will you build Me, says the Lord…”.
The meaning of “Ekklesia” as used in the Acts of the Apostles, translated as “Church” means “a body of believers”. Going to Church passes of as a Spiritual activity and gives one the satisfaction of ‘fulfilling one’s obligation’. This is not what it was meant to be.
8. Sr. Regis Kocherry, May 23/15
Dear Fr Kottoor
Very well written. I fully agree with you and cardinal Alencherry. Are we going to church for worship or for recreational programme? Yes we need to build THE CHURCH of flesh and blood. Many priests have no time for that. People are very eagerly waiting to talk and listen to priests about Christ and Bible. I hope and pray for that it may happen in Catholic church.Sr Regis Kocherry
9. Chancellor of Kottar, May 25th 2015
Dear Fr. James,
I acknowledge your e-mail regarding the architectural building of Edapalli Church and thank you for the same. Certainly, the temples of the Holy Spirit are more important than the temple of bricks and mortar. The poor are always with us and they need care. Mt. 25 gives a better spirit to the importance of living temples.
Fr. G. Felix.Chancellor, Kottar Diocese
10. Ed Schreurs, May 26, 2015
In the Netherlands we have got a majority in favor of homosexual marriages, abortion clinics and assistance at euthanasia without episcopal dialogue . All of us are guilty of having accepted, that bishops were appointed unable to participate in open dialogue on these and other issues.
May the Almighty forgive us our silence.
We have to accept that cardinal Eijk has an aversion of dialogues. Therefore we will not send him the 85 pages of dialogue sessions. We will ask him only as messenger to deliver the short list, petition of ours, which in the meantime has been used in other countries.
More guilty I feel for the years that I have been participating as priest in the evil system, the origin of misery. The answers from the grassroots on topics of questionnaires and the writing of James Kottoor made me add some sins on my own confession list. I have to bow my head for
The sin of using money for prestigious buildings.
The sin of neglecting poor families.
The sin of not attending to the divorced and remarried
The sin of making little of Catholics leaving the Church
The sin of a blind eye for problems of LGBT issues
The sin of silence on responsible parenthood and contraception
The sin of accepting the prejudicial treatment of women
The sin of neglecting the rising phenomenon of cohabitation
The sin of not working on abolition of clericalism and sexual abuse
The sin of not developing a care plan for families in trouble
The sin of keeping Ecumenism a low key issue
The sin of suggesting a voodoo effect of blessings and sacraments
The sin of thinking that as priest I was made more than a layman.
I trust, that the poor and the grassroots’ people will forgive me, my colleagues and the church officials, like God is forging us. So in the year of mercy we can concentrate anew on a dream, on the proper message of Jesus of Nazareth. I have a suggestion for next year and one for this summer.
In the concept Jubilee Paper I found many impressing testimonies. Thanks to the collectors.I agree partly to the conclusion, that we should Establish lay-led workshops (for conversion), but not for the 2350 correspondents, who do not need conversion, or for ordinary reform meeting visitors, who do not need correction of responsibilities, but for bishops and those who usually keep away from reform planning. After the Synod it might be clear, whether and how this could be done.
During the coming months we have to prepare those bishops who will have a vote at the Synod. They have to be equipped for their task. I am ready to work within this part of the outreach.
During Vat II many bishops had a team of specialists with them like Küng and Schillebeeckx. Each evening they discussed issues on the order of coming days.
Bishops who go to the Family Synod should be wise and have with them at least one couple, that has gone through the trouble of discovering that a beloved child belongs to the LGBT group or a child that has gone through the trouble of divorce and remarrying.
These parents and all of us would be grateful if in future everywhere in the church parental love would be recognized in the pastoral care of bishops and pastors and if they start recovering from sins. Ed. Netherlands
11. Devadhas, May 26/15
Beautiful reflection.. I would say we need a airy and spacious place to worship..but wasting money and time and energy of the poor people and priests to build this kind of bricky churches is seemingly a structural sin..more over they are expecting the rich people to donate their so-called black money also and getting name and fame of the people and priest ,of course not from God…what saddens is that many of our leaders including priest and Bishops are after this kind of rich people in the name of building churches…I hope There will be an end In this year…
Let us try to smell the sheep on the streets,homes and uncared places..There we build the real church…Sent from my iPad
12. From: “Vincent Mooken” <firstname.lastname@example.org>. May 26, 2015
Subject: Exorbitant Churches: An instance of merciless extortion by church authorities came to light recently.St Mary’s Church,Punnakunnu, in the very diocese of Cardinal Alencherry, is demolished and being rebuilt, a project totally unnecessary as per opinion of several
parishioners. An auto rickshaw driver of this parish wanted a date fixed for the baptism of his first born child. The vicar Rev Fr Pious Padinjaremuri refused to baptise the child unless he cleared his dues of Rs. 35,000/- for the rebuilding of the church. The helpless man mortgaged his auto rickshaw, paid Rs. 30,000/-to the church and got his child baptised. In this parish there are many parishioners who are finding it difficult to make both ends meet but are coerced to part with funds in the name of God. Cardinal Alencherry will do well to get his own backyard cleaned. — Vincent Mooken 13. From: Fr.George Ponnaiah, Kuzhithuraidiocese,<email@example.com>May 26, 2015
Your article is interesting. Thisis some kind of reflection of the so called liberation theologeans. Church building was not the work of Jesus. The churches are only an evolution. It is not a deviation. In kerala so many houses cost more tha 50 crores. Why cant you build a church for God for 50 crores. 50 crores are not a big money any more in India. How many millions are swindled by your politicians. That is peoples money, Why dont you fight against that or shout against that. We need churches that too beautiful churches because it is the dwelling place of God. Fr.George Ponnaiah
14. From Maria Susai, May 27/15
Wonderful writing what a pity in our diocese Kottar and Kuzhithurai also some priests are mad after making the churches and other buildings . let us try ourselves to spread the values of Jesus thanks fr. Maria Susai