News News Editor, John-Henry Westen returned a few days ago from speaking engagements in the Indian state of Kerala. This is the first in a series of articles in which he reflects on those experiences. While in Kerala John-Henry spoke to nearly 10,000 people, including state and church dignitaries, about population, life and family issues.

By John-Henry Westen

KAKKANAD, Kerela, India, August 15, 2006 ( – The Catholic faith in Kerala state in India is alive and well for now, however religious leaders have slowly begun to realize that the situation is soon to deteriorate as the Catholic birth rate in the state, and the country as a whole, is severely low, with most families tending toward one child rather than the recent norm of two.

Fr. Antony Thamby Thaikkoottathil, Vice Chancellor of the Cochin Diocese of the Latin Rite explained to that when he went through seminary some 15 years ago, there were 900 seminarians and that now there are only 300. While the numbers represent a massive drop, the effects on the diocese are not yet felt as the major surplus in vocations from previous years affords local Churches an ample supply of priests and also allows India to send many priests to Western countries which are, by comparison, devoid of vocations.

Two months ago director Steve Jalsevac was in Kerala meeting with Cardinal Varkey and other religious leaders about the coming underpopulation woes. More than twenty bishops of the Syro-Malabar rite, the largest Catholic rite in India, discussed the matter with theologians at a colloquium held in Kakkanada on July 24.

A pastoral letter written by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil was read in all Syro-Malabar rite parishes Sunday, warning Catholics not to view children as a “hindrance to a life of pleasure.“The Cardinal urged, “Those who have the means should come forward to have more children and bring them up.” He added, “Responsible fatherhood and motherhood demand this.”

Cardinal Varkey noted “today the tendency to avoid having children is on the increase among the couples who are motivated by selfishness to seek their own enjoyment.”

In the strongest language in the letter, the Cardinal warns Catholics that it is sinful to refuse God’s gift of children without grave reasons.“There is sin and injustice to society behind the decision of not having children by those parents who have the means and normal health,” said Cardinal Varkey.

One of the major impediments to openness to large families is economic hardship. However, in his letter, the Cardinal strikes at the heart of one of the self-inflicted complicating factors in the economic impediment faced by families in India. was informed by several members of relatively poor families in India of the struggle to afford customary parties associated with children. Engagement and wedding ceremonies are lavish affairs with large numbers of guests, all to be paid for by the parents. Other such costly affairs are frequent for baptisms and even ordinations, which often bankrupt families. When it was suggested that such celebrations may be continued affordably by using outdoor venues and pot-luck style ventures, polite smiles conveyed the deeply set cultural tradition which binds even poor families to unaffordable practices.

“Today there is also the tendency to spend extravagantly to obtain prestige and positions in the society,” Cardinal Varkey stated in his letter. “Often celebrations of marriage, betrothal, wedding anniversary, birthday celebrations, baptism, first holy communion, etc. become celebrations of extravagance. This is an indication of the wrong priorities of values.”

The Cardinal added, “The hopeless debt trap into which many families have fallen after such celebrations is also a problem to be seriously considered.”

See the full pastoral letter here:


Commenting Guidelines

LifeSiteNews welcomes thoughtful, respectful comments that add useful information or insights. Demeaning, hostile or propagandistic comments, and streams not related to the storyline, will be removed.

LSN commenting is not for frequent personal blogging, on-going debates or theological or other disputes between commenters.

Multiple comments from one person under a story are discouraged (suggested maximum of three). Capitalized sentences or comments will be removed (Internet shouting).

LifeSiteNews gives priority to pro-life, pro-family commenters and reserves the right to edit or remove comments.

Comments under LifeSiteNews stories do not necessarily represent the views of LifeSiteNews.