Indian Catholic Prelate Sees Faith in India Drying Up Within 20 Years

By John-Henry Westen

Catholic Church in Kerala, IndiaCOCHIN, Kerala, India, August 15, 2006 ( - Fr. Antony Thamby Thaikkoottathil, is a very busy priest. In addition to three masters degrees he is finishing off studies in hospital administration. He is the Vice Chancellor of the Cochin Diocese in Kerala, and the Director General of it’s Human Resource Development Centre, and teaches at the local seminary.

Fr. Thamby, as he is known, spoke with earlier this month about the seeming contradiction in India of a seemingly vibrant faith life but at the same time a birth rate which is heading for extinction.

“We are adapting to the Western culture,” said the very personable priest, taking time out of his busy schedule. He explained that he was born into a family of five children, but that the current trend is less children. Fr. Thamby recalled a recent youth gathering at which he spoke he inquired of the large number of gathered youth how many came from families of three or more children.“Not even one,” he stated with dismay.

“When I was in the seminary,” explained the 35-year-old priest, “there were 900 seminarians, but now there are only 300.”Â

Fr. Thamby called it a seeming paradox that churches in his diocese seem to be filled, seminaries continue to flourish and religious sisters abound yet at the same time the openness to life seems to be lacking in most families. He added however that such abundance was the fruit of the faithfulness of previous generations and would not last.

“In twenty years will we find people in the church?” asked Fr. Thamby rhetorically.

The prelate noted that there were other factors holding the faith together in India. There exists in India a culture of vibrant faith expression. Buses and trucks are adorned with the praises of God and His saints, or Allah or Buddha, billboards too ask Divine intervention for business success, wayside shrines, churches, temples and mosques cover the landscape.

He explained that competition from other religions such as the Hindu, Moslem, and Sikh religions serves to drive Catholics together to express their faith.Â

However that culture is changing as well. There is a growing trend, especially among young people, to work outside of India in the Middle East and in Europe, explains Fr. Thamby, and when those young people return, they have not retained this culture of religious expression.

Moreover, he also pointed out that poverty has often driven people to turn to God for help. But the increasing affluence has come with Western secularization.

Fr. Thamby suggests that recourse to abortion or even contraception were rare even ten years ago but the younger generation has been more ready to accept even these measures.

One of numerous shrines along streets in Kerala townsThe priest acknowledges that the situation is a dangerous one for Catholics in India who are a mere 2% of the population. With the Catholic population not nearly replacing itself in terms of birth rate, the community is suffering demographic implosion with the resulting loss of political clout which has been largely assumed by the growing Moslem population.Â

The Latin rite bishops, explains Fr. Thamby, are seeking to turn the problem around by creating communities of families within parishes. Groupings of 10-20 families meet very regularly, at least once a week, and are given instruction by priests and religious in faith formation, openness to life, and pro-life activities. They are also gathered into communities to support one another and to pray together. In this way it is hoped that families will be encouraged and empowered to live the fullness of the faith even regarding openness to life, a great challenge now being faced in India.

Success in that challenge will lead to continued vibrant life for the Church in India, failure in this regard will mean certain death.

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