“One child in every family is for God”.
That old saying is finding very few takers in the Catholic community today, going by the dwindling number of Catholic priests and nuns across the country.
And the “vocation crisis” is affecting not just various church orders, but also the educational and social service institutions they run.
The appointment this month of the non-religious Alice Carvalho as principal of St. Mary’s ISC — a staunch Jesuit institution — is a glaring example.
“There’s been a noticeable fall in the number of priests at the national level, particularly in women’s institutions,” said Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, who estimates a 40 per cent drop in his Archdiocese alone.
Prominent education-based congregations have also seen the crunch, including the Salesians of Don Bosco, the Franciscan Brothers, and most prominently the Jesuits, whose numbers have reduced by half over the last 20 years.
In urban areas, women’s orders like the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which runs the prestigious Sophia College off Pedder Road, have been affected.
“In the last 12 years, no one has joined us from Sophia’s, and the last local Mumbaiite joined us 10 years ago,” said Sister Pratibha, Superior of the congregation.
So why are the young not interested in priesthood?
“Celibacy is a big deterrent,” said an amused Ruben Mascarenhas (21), an engineering student who compares priests to freedom fighters.
“Everyone wants a priest, but not in their own house. They want him in the neighbour’s house,” he said.
That said, priesthood also demands nine to 12 years of rigorous training, a permanent sacrifice of oneself for others, austerity and no monetary remuneration.
And the focus today is on getting children ready for the increasingly competitive world.
“As Jesus says in the Bible, one can’t worship money and God at the same time — the Gospels predicted this trend years ago,” said Father Joe D’Souza of the Church of St. Ignatius at Jacob Circle.
“For the Church, the problem is not just about who’ll run the institutions, but also who’ll take the community forward,” said environmental consultant Samuel Rebello (23).
And so, churches are seeing a rise in the number of Deacons, married men who are allowed some priestly duties.
There is also help from the youth groups that function in most churches, allowing the young to serve the church without joining the vocation.