Debating India

Europe turns to India for priests

Monday 2 May 2005

It may not yet be called outsourcing but acute shortage of young priests is driving catholic Churches in the US, Europe and Latin America to look to India, particularly Kerala, for them, church officials say.

In the US and European countries, the "greying" church phenomenon was causing concern. Youngsters were not coming forward to become priests, one reason being that catholic priests have to be celibate, Syro Malabar Catholic church spokesman Father Paul Thelekatt said.

Another factor worrying the churches there was the dwindling attendance of those from the younger generation in the Sunday Mass, he said.

Thelekatt, who studied in Belgium and worked as a part time priest during vacations at a church in Nueremburg for nearly five years during 1980 to 1985, says there was nothing wrong in priests being sent from India for missionary activities abroad.

The spiritual and moral problems being faced by the parishioners here and abroad were similar, though cultural differences are there, he said.

"Catholic church is like a family. It is the spirit of the church to share personnel and resources when and where they are in plenty," Thelekatt said.

Earlier, it was missionaries from Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy who were coming to India for church activities. Time has come a full circle and now priests from India are being much sought after, he said.

Thelekatt said though priests were being sent abroad for many years, of late this tendency was on the rise due to the severe shortage of priests abroad.

Although precise figures are not available about the total number of priests going abroad annually, according to him in the Syro Malabar dioceses of Ernakulam-Angamally, of the total 450 priests, 30 are abroad at present.

The extreme climate abroad, language barriers and cultural differences were some of the hurdles being faced by the priests who volunteer to go abroad.

In many places, Indian priests undergo language and culture training of the country they go to take up the assignment, Thelekkat said.

According to Father James Pereppadian, parish priest at nearby Chethicode who was in Italy for over seven years as priest and returned to India a few months ago, there were good number of priests from India in Germany and the US.

In the US, at least three Indian priests had been appointed as Decan, dean of the priests of a particular area, he said.

All the expenses of the priests, including boarding and lodging, are met either by the church or the government of the host country.

They were also entitled to two months vacation with free travel and salary. Following shortage of priests in many of these countries, ’Requiem mass’ and ’Mass Intentions’ are being transferred to various churches in India, church sources say.

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