By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - One area of outsourcing is not taking away jobs in the West,
but it is certainly making quite a few Christians say "Oh Jesus". A mix
of economics and a shortage of priests in Western Europe and the United
States have fueled the outsourcing of the "holy mass" to parishes in the
south Indian state of Kerala.
This is how it works: mass intentions - requests for services, such as
thanksgiving and memorial masses for the dead - are made at the foreign
dioceses and then passed to churches in Kerala, to priests and
congregations with time on their hands. The communication is usually via
email. As there is no official channel, many intentions are through
personal relations of the priests, who may have friends abroad.
If a devotee offers a mass in, say, New York, it may be performed in
Thrissur. Each mass is said in front of a public congregation in
Malayalam, the local language. Reports from Kerala say bishops have had
to limit priests to just one outsourced mass a day to prevent them from
denying others the opportunity to earn a higher income. There is a
dominant Christian population in Kerala, with churches dotting the urban
and rural landscape.
Referred to as "dollar masses", several reports on prayer outsourcing
have been appearing in the local press in Kerala due to the incomes
generated among local churches. "Most of these requests are made from
the US and European countries. These mass intentions are usually routed
through dioceses and handed over to relatively less busy parishes," Jose
Porunnedam, chancellor of Syro-Malabar Church, told a local daily
"Pilgrim centers also direct mass intentions to the diocese. We also get
mass intentions made at Lourdes in France and Santiago De Compestele in
Spain," says Father Dr Philip Nelpuraparambil, director of ecumenism and
dialogue at the Archdiocese of Changanassery.
The main reason for the outsourcing of prayers is the lack of manpower
and hectic schedules in churches in the West. Add the financial
benefits. As in the case of corporate outsourcing, the money saved can
be substantial. While fees for a holy mass intention made in Germany can
be 50 euro (US$60), it is just Rs 50 ($1) at a Thrissur diocese. Rates
vary from country to country: a request from North America or Europe can
net an Indian priest three pounds or four pounds($5-7), which is good
"Mostly these intentions are given out for meeting expenses of parishes
with membership of fewer than 250 families and less sources of income.
The money is also used for paying remuneration for the priests," says
Father Paul Alappat, chancellor of the Thrissur Archdiocese, which gets
an average of 50 mass intentions from abroad every month.
One Indian news agency has quoted the case of Father Benson Kundulam,
who lived in Paris for several years, and recently held a requiem mass
in Cochin, India for a man in France mourning the death of his father.
"It doesn't matter where the person is from, we treat the request the
same," he says. The money, he says, is the last thing on the priest's
mind. "It is a religious duty to say the mass. We do it the same,
whether it is an Indian paying a few rupees or an American paying
His colleague, Father Tony Paul, who has not traveled abroad, gets far
fewer foreign requests and more Indian ones, which earn only a fraction
of the money. "If you don't get personal requests, it is up to the
bishops to hand them out," he said.
Virtual worship is not unusual in India as several prominent temples,
such as Tirupati and Vaishnodevi, have set up websites that allow online
darshan (prayers) as well as the offering of prasad (sweets, incense
etc) by paying via credit card.
However, as in the case of corporate outsourcing, there have been voices
of protest from the West. Britain's biggest industrial union, Amicus,
expressed alarm earlier this week at the latest trend in outsourcing to
South Asia: religion.
"Religious services and prayers for the dead are being offshored from
the United Kingdom to India because of a lack of priests," Amicus, whose
one-million-plus membership includes several thousand clergymen, said in
a statement. Amicus cited press reports that revealed how more and more
prayers were being said in Kerala because they had become too expensive
in the West. "This shows that no aspect of life in the West is sacred,"
said Amicus' national secretary, David Fleming.
Church representatives, however, aver that outsourcing religious
services has been going on for many years, which has nothing to do with
the current fad over business process outsourcing or services sector
Paul Thelakat, spokesman for the Cochin archdiocese and editor of the
largest-selling Catholic weekly in Malayalam, has been quoted as saying
that prayers for the dead have been outsourced for decades and that the
tradition has been thrust into the spotlight only because of the
controversy over corporate outsourcing in the West.
"Priests and bishops abroad have no choice but to send them here or else
the mass intentions would never be said," Thelakat said.
Other critics say that though religious outsourcing does not take jobs
away from other parts of the world, unlike its corporate equivalent,
there may be a tendency by unscrupulous priests scrambling to make a
profit, with no way to verify whether the clerics perform the ceremonies
they are assigned.
It could indeed be morally right to outsource God as it results in money
being re- distributed to the poor and needy. On the other hand, should
matters concerning the human spirit be shopped around to the lowest
material bidder? One would think that, like one's faith, the choice
should be individual.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist
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Article taken (with Thanks) from Atimes.com
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