Mangalore: Tamil Priests Boycott Chrism Mass In Bangalore Language Dispute

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Apr 3 12:04:35 UTC 2007

Tamil Priests Boycott Chrism Mass In Bangalore Language Dispute

MANGALORE, April 2 -- Tensions between language-based groups in southern
India's Bangalore archdiocese worsened as some Tamil-speaking priests
boycotted the Chrism Mass, a symbol of priestly brotherhood and obedience.
The archdiocese, based in the same-named capital of Karnataka state, 2,060
kilometers south of New Delhi, has lived with the tension for more than 30
years. Tamil speakers, migrants from neighboring Tamil Nadu state, form
the majority of Catholics and want their language used in liturgies. Local
Kannada-speaking people say the liturgical language should be Kannada, on
the ground that it is the state language.

Father C. Moses, who resides at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Bangalore
city, told UCA News that 40 of 48 Tamil priests in the archdiocese stayed
away from the Chrism Mass. The special Mass, traditionally celebrated on
Holy Thursday, is the occasion for all the priests of a diocese to express
their brotherly unity, pastoral commitment and obedience to the bishop by
concelebrating with him. The Church observes the day as the foundation day
of the Church and the Eucharist. For pastoral reasons, dioceses are free
to have the Mass on a day before Holy Thursday. During the Mass, the
bishop consecrates the chrism used for sacramental anointing and oils used
for blessing throughout the year.

Bangalore archdiocese held the Mass on March 29 at the cathedral,
expecting all its 105 priests and another 100 Religious priests working in
the archdiocese to attend. But a majority of the Tamil priests kept way
from it, protesting Archbishop Bernard Moras' decision to have the liturgy
in Kannada. "It is nothing but an open proclamation of (the archbishop's)
arrogance and discrimination against the majority of Tamil Catholics in
the archdiocese," Father Moses said. He added that the Tamil community has
been neglected since the archbishop took over in September 2004.

The past two Chrism Masses also were said in Kannada, which Tamil priests
claim violates an agreement to use three languages - Kannada, Tamil and
English - for important common liturgies. Some Tamil priests also had
boycotted the two earlier Chrism Masses. An archdiocesan priest who
requested anonymity told UCA News the same day that Chrism Masses formerly
were celebrated in English, since all the priests understood it. At the
recent Mass, he said, a section of laypeople were responding in Tamil,
even though the liturgy was conducted in Kannada, while a small group of
people were shouting slogans against the archbishop outside the church.

Archbishop Moras said in his homily, in Kannada, that the priestly
vocation is a call to work for justice, peace and equality, and to promote
unity, but never to create division. After the archbishop finished, Tamil
Father Siluvai Ignaci preached a homily in Tamil. Father Moses, who stayed
away from the Mass, said only seven Tamil priests attended it. He
identified them as the cathedral parish priest and priests serving as
consultors of the archdiocese or at the archbishop's house. Tamil priests
opposed to the archbishop's policy claim it does not respect the right of
the archdiocese's Tamil-speaking Catholics, whose number they put at
300,000, to worship God in their own language.

On the other hand, some Kannada-speaking Catholics lead a movement to
introduce Kannada as the medium in all liturgical services. The problem
has persisted almost three decades. The Tamil priests accuse Archbishop
Moras of "violating the three-language formula" in main celebrations such
as the Chrism Mass and ordination of priests. He celebrates them only in
Kannada. The archdiocese has approximately 362,000 Catholics, according to
the Catholic Directory of India 2005-2006. Archdiocesan officials estimate
that Tamils constitute at least 70 percent of the Catholics and 20 percent
are Kannada people, while the rest are from other language groups.

Father J. Arokyanathan, a Tamil priest, charged that the archbishop
deliberately promoted Kannada without considering Tamil priests and Tamil
laity. Whenever Tamil priests have raised this issue, he added, the
archbishop has avoided discussion by saying, "No comments." Former
prelates since the 1980s followed the "three-language formula" for all
important common liturgies like the Chrism Mass and ordinations, according
to Father Arokyanathan, but the present archbishop "has fallen prey to the
Kannada lobby in the archdiocese."

Archbishop Moras told UCA News in 2005 that that he preferred using
Kannada as the medium in liturgy as even Tamils, who settled here
generations ago, know the language and it is the official language of the
state. Since both groups understand Kannada well and ordinary parishioners
are uncomfortable with English, he said, the three-language formula made
no sense to him. The archbishop, though a native of Karnataka, is
considered a Konkani-speaker, since he hails from the Mangalore region, a
Catholic stronghold. The Catholic community there has roots in neighboring
Goa state.


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