(This is an old article published on 15 Jun 2009)
Early in 1982, Father Joseph Parekatil of the Catholic Church of Parasahi, Madhya Pradesh, destroyed the sacred murti of Goddess Visveshwari Siddheswari, enshrined on the nearby Nawain Tekdi hill, and erected a small wooden cross.Later, on 18 February 1983, a 31-foot high concrete cross was illegally erected on the hill. A month later, enraged villagers destroyed the cross.
On 20 February 1985, intent on regaining possession of the hill, Father Parekatil put on the orange robes of a Hindu sannyasin, built a hut on the hill, sat on a tiger skin and began performing worship in the Hindu style. As a result, thousands of simple Hindus came to the hill on Fridays, unaware of the deception going on before their eyes.
On 18 May, a complaint was registered, but to no avail. Again there was agitation in the area, and this time, on 1 October 1985, the villagers tore down the priest’s hut and tossed away the remaining pieces of the concrete cross. Father Parekatil gave up only when he was arrested a week later for breach of peace (1).
Father Parekatil’s tactic of adopting Hindu symbols to further his missionary goals is known as “inculturation” or “indigenization.” Swami Jayendra Saraswati, Sankaracharya of Kanchi Matham, made a valid point at the “Interfaith Dialogue” with Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and others, in Mumbai on 12 July 2009.
The statement released to the media elaborates: “The Church in India must stop forthwith the use of Hindu religious words, phrases and symbols like Veda, Agama, Rishi, Ashram, Om and other such in what is referred to as ‘inculturation’ tactics, but which are only intended to deceive the vulnerable sections of our people who are the intended targets for religious conversion.”
He further challenged the church: “In 1999, Pope Johan Paul II had stated that the mission of the Vatican was to plant the Cross in Asia in the third millennium to facilitate the Christianizing of the world, which alone would cause the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Pope must tell us the rationale for the First Coming of Jesus Christ when there was no Christianity or the Church to undertake the mission to Christianize the world.”
The points raised are timely. Christianity has always followed a policy of ‘inculturation.’ It adopted Pagan elements in christianized form to pave the way for transition from Paganism to Christianity. Pagan gods became Christian saints and Pagan festivals became Christian festivals. In this process of inculturation, the Christian Church suborned old forms to its new message, making sure that the Pagan foundation was submerged under Christian doctrine (2).
“Indigenization is evangelization,” says Kaj Baag. “It is the planting of the gospel inside another culture, another philosophy, another religion” (3). In the case of India, ‘inculturation’ or ‘indigenisation’ means ‘the incorporation of Jesus in Indian spiritual tradition.’ Fr. Bede says, “In India we need a Christian Vedanta and a Christian Yoga that is a system of theology which makes use not only of the terms and concepts, but also of the whole structure of thought of Vedanta” (4).
Shantivanam Ashram on the banks of the sacred Kaveri River near Trichy in South India appears Hindu. It has a Hindu shrine, saffron-robed “swami” seated cross-legged on a straw mat, devotees practicing yogic meditations, even chanting Hindu scriptures. But these impressions gradually prove false. First, the eye detects that the courtyard shrine is for Saint Paul and that “puja” is actually, a daily Mass, complete with incense, lamps, flower offerings and prasadam. Finally, one meets the “swami,” Father Bede “Dayananda” Griffiths, a Christian “sannyasin.”
This is a Christian ashram, one of more than fifty in India, which are described as “experiments in cross-cultural communication,” or as “contemplative hermitages that revolve around both Christian and Hindu ideals.” Fr. J. Monchanin, one of the founding members of the ashram, defines his mission: “I have come to India for no other purpose than to awaken in a few souls the desire (the passion) to raise up a Christian India. It will take centuries, sacrificed lives and we shall perhaps die before seeing any realizations. A Christian India, completely Indian andcompletely Christian will be something so wonderful the sacrifice of our lives is not too much to ask” (5).
Sita Ram Goel, in his book “Catholic Ashrams,” lists 108 such Christian ashrams in India, 4 in Nepal and 8 in Sri Lanka. These ashrams include Asha Niketan, Bangalore, Karnataka; Bethany Ashram (1938), Channapatna, Karnataka; Christa Sevakee Ashram (1950), Karkala, Karnataka; Christian Institute for the study of Religion and Society, Bangalore, Karnataka; Yesu Karuna Prarthanalaya, Kote, Mysore District, Karnataka, and others (7).
Lausanne Movement (for world evangelization) published a paper titled “Christian witness to Hindus” (1980), listing some of the methods to be implemented to convert Hindus:
1] We should enunciate theology in Indian categories so that the Hindu can understand the gospel.
2] We must develop a truly Christian worldview consistent with the Indian context.
3] While presenting the gospel, we must be aware of the fact that the Hindu understands the doctrine of God, man, sin, and salvation in a way entirely different from the biblical doctrine.
4] Communicate the gospel through indigenous methods such as bhajans, drama, dialogue, discourse, Indian music, festival processions, etc. (6)
The present Catholic ashrams have inherited a history of intrigue and subterfuge. The Niyogi Commission report on Madhya Pradesh, 1956, noted: “Robert De Nobili (a Catholic Jesuit priest) appeared in Madura in 1607, clad in the saffron robes of a Sadhu with sandal paste on his forehead and the sacred thread on his body. He gave out that he was a Brahmin from Rome. He showed documentary evidence to prove that he belonged to a clan that had migrated from ancient India. He declared that he was bringing a message which had been taught in India by Indian ascetics of yore and that he was only restoring to Hindus one of their lost sacred books, namely the 5th Veda, called Yeshurveda (Jesus Veda). It passed for a genuine work until the Protestant Missionaries exposed the fraud about the year 1840. This Brahmin Sannyasi of the ‘Roman Gotra,’ Father De Nobili, worked for 40 years and died at the age of 89 in 1656. It is said that he had converted about a lakh of people, but they all melted away after his death” (8).
This is the situation the Hindu finds himself in today. Christian missionaries have adopted Hindu ways of life, Hindu religious symbols, architecture, worship forms, and even declare themselves as Swamis. A Catholic priest who calls himself “swami” instantly attains the status and authority of a holy man in Hindu society, which he can use to convert individuals.
By using Sanskrit terminology in his sermons, he implies a close relationship of Hindu theology to Catholic theology, a relationship which does not really exist. Such missionaries speak authoritatively on Hindu scriptures and argue that their [Christian] teachings are consonant with everything Hindu, but add a finishing touch, a “fullness” to the traditional faith.
Under such situation, no inter-faith interactions will bring any fruits unless the “church” mends its ways. As the Kanchi Perivaar rightly affirms: “After such inter-faith meetings, the points agreed have to be faithfully abided. Otherwise the will be no point in holding such meetings. Unless the Church reassures Hindus that it will not conduct itself in a manner that wounds Hindu sensibilities and follows up on those assurances, such inter-faith meetings, no matter how frequently they are held, will be futile and will not serve any meaningful cause.”
1] Hinduism Today, Indian Ocean Edition, December 1988.
2] Salvation: Hindu influence on Christianity by Dr. Koenraad Elst.
3] Kaj Baago, Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity, Madras, 1969, p. 85.
4] Bede Griffiths, op. cit., p. 24.
5] “Liberal” Christianity, Ram Swarup.
6] “Christian Witness to Hindus”, 1980, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.
7] Catholic Ashrams: Sanyassins or Swindlers, By Sita Ram Goel.
8] Niyogi Commission Report on Christian Missionary activities.