Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview of RL Francis, president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement

Christianity is facing crisis like any other religion Message of Christ must spread without offending any religion, says RL Francis, president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)
The problems of the Dalits and Tribals have remained the same even after several decades of conversion into the Christianity. A large number of poor Christians have come together to form a common platform – Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) –and are demanding Church to meet the aspirations of the dalits and tribals.
In a long interaction with Sai Prasan, a senior journalist, RL Francis, president, PCLM addressed the issues ranging from Kandhamal violence, fraudulent conversions to the inner contradictions within the Church and among the Christian community at large. Excerpts:
PCLM has issued a press release on MP Minority Commission's observations regarding Church property. But, why you were silent on the Supreme Court recently criticizing Odisha government for its failure to protect the life of people in Kandhamal violence? And, you have spared even the Hindu fundamentalists for attacking Christians in Odisha?
Do not allege the things which are not true. We condemn any kind of violence on any religion. We support all the decision of the Honourable Supreme Curt of India in this regard. In several judgments, judiciary has saved the minorities in India.
You have termed the Christian conversions fraudulent and asked the Church to stop it. What is the basis on which you have alleged that the Conversions are fraudulent in India?
The act of conversion comes from within and is an spiritual attainment of an individual. The church itself is against conversions which are done through allurement and false promises. It has been observed that many conversions are done using questionable methods. The Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) is against such conversions. Several studies published and particularly in a book - "Changing Gods" by Rev. Fr. Rudolf Heredoro S.J. gives several example of fraudulent conversion. It is on the basis of these studies that the people allege that fraudulent conversions are taking place in India. Several priests themselves have said these things.
You have asked the government/s to appoint common man in the commissions and other forums and not the priests and bishops. Why you do not have faith in the Church?
According to World Council of Churches and Vatican II, the laity must be empowered. If the religious persons (priests and nuns) are appointed in the government formed commission, then the confusion will arise in the masses. After all, the Vatican has an ambassador in India who is the representative of Pope. And on the other hand, bishops and archbishops are also appointed by Rome. In this condition, it is difficult for priests and nuns to ignore the religious stand and sometimes they many act contrary to the interest of local people.
The roles of religious people are to do spiritual work and live the life of Christ. I need not elaborate that Christ himself never accepted any post in Roman Empire.
We further urged the government that no clergy (Bishops, priests and nuns) be appointed in the government committee, commissions etc. Instead, the government should appoint ordinary Christians as the members in such committees and commissions. It has been observed that due to such appointments, the Bishops, priests, and nuns are deviating from their original work of the Church and misusing their positions and funds.
What are the demands of poor dalits and tribal Christians from the Church?
The demand of poor christians is to uplift the poor christians who mostly come from dalit and tribal background. It has been noted that while the church is having buildings and institutions, the poor Christians are not admitted in it. Our demand is to give admission to every Christian child in Christian schools. After all, the Christians schools are violating the rights under minority rules.
As there are large number of administrative rules in the church institutors, we demand that the laity should be given more chance to the government the local church institutions.
We strongly demand that as per the teachings of Jesus Christ inaction within the church on the basis for caste must be stopped immediately. And separate graveyard for dalits and separate prayer arrangement for them must be changed into general equal rights.
We appeal to the bishops to see that priests, nuns and authorities stop supporting upper caste Christians against Dalit Christians and instead openly oppose discrimination and close down the churches and services in places where discrimination on the basis of caste is practiced.
Has the social and economic status of poor Christians after the conversions changed and these religious conversions brought any social change among the dalits and tribal?
Unfortunately not. Several studies by the Church and independent scholars suggest that they are large number of poor Christians' who still lack education and they are backward economically. They do not have jobs.
The poor Christians particularly Dalits are suffering in the same manner as Hindu dalits. Infact, this is the basis for demanding reservation for the Dalit Christians in the Church for several years.
PCLM has made allegations that the foreign funds coming to India are being mis-used by a section of Church. How do you think these funds can be properly used for the development of Dalit and tribal Christians?
St. Peter has two keys. One of the heaven and other one of the treasurery. The treasury key must be handed over to the laity for transparency.. Economic committees should be formed to oversee the fund's expenditure. In every diocese the treasurer must be a lay person appointed on the rotational basis - for two years. And must be changed after that. More economic owers must be given to nuns as they are honest and sincere.
Why are you opposed to the reservations of Dalit Christians in the government jobs?
We are looking for the long term interest of the community. After the government, the Church is the biggest employer in India. And as such what is the percentage of dalit Christians employed in Christian schools, colleges, hospitals and social service projects. We want first the Church to provide 60 % reservations to the Dalit Christians, 20 % to the Tribal Christians and 10 % for rest of the Christians in their own institutions.
In principle it also not justified to push back the Dalits Christians in the same category which they discarded and adopted Christianity. We demand that Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI), National Council for churches in India (NCCI) and other church organizations to drop the demand for pushing back the poor Christians in to the category of Scheduled Caste status. The teaching of Jesus Christ does not permit a any one to discriminate among his followers. All Christians are born in the image of God.
If the Church in India pursues the reservation for Christians on the basis of caste then it must pay compensation to the poor Christians who got converted to the Christianity long back. We urge the Union government to institute a law allowing the Christians minority institutions to admit 50% student who are Christians. Any Christians educational institute claiming Minority Status be punished if they refuse admission to a Christian child. Currently, there is no such provision therefore the Church educational institutions are ignoring poor Christians. Those not following the directive be declassified and put under the Income Tax Act as commercial venture.
You have supported Madhya Pradesh Minority Commissions' statement to form Waqf board to monitor Church property. How do you think that it will help the poor Christians?
The large scale fraudulent deals and selling of mission properties in several places in India, the Madhya Pradesh Minority Commission has suggested to the State Government to set up a Waqf like Board to protect Church properties.
The church hierarchy should examine it with open mind and in sincerity. We have submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh demanding an agency for the protection of Christian properties on the pattern of Waqf Board.
There is nothing objectionable in the proposal. If there was anything wrong in the Waqf board, then Muslim brethren would have opposed it. Therefore, it is not appropriate to oppose the proposal mooted by the M P state Minority Commission for setting up a Waqf like Board for the Christians.
Several cases of selling Church property illegally have come to the light in Jabalpur, Damoh, Indore, Ratlam, Raipur, Bilaspur, Nagpur, Agra, Saharanpur, Lucknow,Ludhiana, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta and in other places. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Christian community to have a Waqf Board like national agency for the proper upliftment and protection of the mission property.
Your opponents among the Christian community alleged that the people like you are disgruntled elements as your line of thinking is similar to Sangh Parivar. Are you working in tandem with the Sangh Parivar?
Several priests and bishops are having dialogue with RSS. Are they also working in tandem with the Sangh Parivar?
Has PCLM sought Vatican City's intervention to resolve their problems?
We would welcome any move by the Vatican to solve the problems of Dalit Christians in India. Also we would like to involve World Council of Churches in this matter. And we cannot forget the evangelical groups who are also spreading the word of Lord. Above all the involvement of the leaders from India is also very important.
What is your last word on the overall situation?
In the 21st century all religion are facing crisis. So, the case with Christainity. I sincerely urge the Church leaders to prepare the laity for the more responsibilities so that the real message of Christ becomes acceptable to all without offending any other religion.The key word is respect all religions equally.

Please send your comments to saiprasan2@gmail.com. And, visit www.kandhamalconversion.blogspot.com for more information.

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