‘Procreate more, win big rewards’: Kerala Catholic commission sends out message to believers
The dwindling numbers of the Christian population in Kerala have prompted the Catholic churches to dust off an old slogan -- “procreate more and win rewards”. The clergy is tightening its grip on believers and all churches have been asked to redraw their pro-life and family commission activities by the family commission wing of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) to send the message across -- big is better.
Catholics form about 60 per cent of the Christian population in the state. According to the 2011 census, the Christian population in Kerala is 18.38% – a two per cent drop from the earlier census, and its numbers are declining after every census.
Pala diocese in Kottayam was first to make an offer last week – it announced a ₹1500 monthly bonanza for those who have got married after 2000 and have four children and above. The icing on the cake is free education and medical care for siblings and parents, with the church controlling a lion’s share of educational institutions and hospitals in the state. Later, many dioceses followed suit.
“It is nothing new. We took it up again in the backdrop of the (Covid-19) pandemic and the ongoing year of family celebrations,” said Father Joseph Kuttianikal, director of the family apostolate of Pala diocese, scoffing at speculations that church is eyeing a population boom.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference said the new initiative of Pala diocese was part of the family welfare activities for “protection of life” as propounded by the Vatican direction to observe the ‘year of family’.”There is no room for any controversy. We have been consistently telling believer since 2011 when we started felicitating large families,” said KCBC family commission chairman Father M Paul Antony.
“There are many policies to support families that receive more children. We have to formulate more such measures to boost our family life,” said Father Paul Simenthy, secretary of the KCBC family commission in a letter to all church heads.
This is happening at a time when many states are planning stringent measures to control population explosion, but the church put up a brave face saying it has every right to check its depleting numbers, and that it was part of the ‘year of the family’ celebration announced by Pope Francis. Pastoral letters were read in many churches in the state last Sunday reminding believers about their “family duty and obligation”.
The church also reminded believers that sex is not merely an instrument of pleasure, but integral to procreation and flourish. There is a growing tendency among couples in their pursuit of happiness and career options to opt-out children, and the church sniffs influence of globalisation and a perverse view on life for this malaise. It wants Indian Catholic tradition not to embrace the western way where religious life shrunk badly.
“The pro-life movement is not to raise numbers only. It is a comprehensive move to uphold family values and cherish the Catholic way of life. It is all the more important now as the anti-life campaign is getting stronger globally,” said Father Paul Thelekkat, former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar church.
However, reformists said the church’s latest call was triggered by “commercial interests”. “Our society needs responsible parenthood and not incentivised one. Let parents make a judgment on their progeny, not outside forces,” said Shyju Antony, a leader of Save Our Sisters, a movement floated in the wake of the stir against rape accused former Bishop of Jalandhar Franco Mulakkal. He said the church was only concerned about numbers, not the financial background of the family or the health of mothers.
In 2017, the Thamarassery diocese in north Kerala told believers that boys should marry before the age of 26, and girls before 23, while the Irinajalakuda diocese in Thrissur had given an advertisement in local media in 2014 saying that it will give ₹1000 per month to the fourth child till he/she attains the age of 20. One of the reasons for Kerala’s low birth rate is late marriages.
KCBC has also called believers to observe a black day on August 10, the 50th anniversary of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in the country. The church has been opposing all types of abortions, saying human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception.
Kerala is believed to be one of the oldest Christian settlements. St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Lord Jesus, is learnt to have visited the state in the first century AD. In its 2000-year history, the Indian church has only six saints and the last five came in ten years, ending the long drought of holy men in a country where religion took roots in apostolic times. Out of the six, four are from Kerala – St Alphonsa, St Kuriakose Elias Chavara, St Euphrasia and St Mariam Thresia. Believers feel that since the laity’s religious enthusiasm is on the wane in developed countries, the church is seeking solutions in a big way. And Kerala still produces some of the best priests and nuns in the world, believers say, adding that a growing number of saints are a bonanza for them to tread the holy path.