'Kerala Christians Face No Threat': First Bishop To Deny 'Narcotics Jihad' Claim
Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos says those in power should not give statements which can be used by communal forces.
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(This story was first published on 16 September 2021. It is being republished on 2 November in view of the Pala Bishop getting booked for his 'narcotics jihad' remark.)
Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, the Metropolitan of the Niranam Diocese of the Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church, in Kerala, has a message for his Catholic counterpart, the Bishop of Pala, Mar Joseph Kallarangatt:
"In Kerala...no religious community is under any serious threat, let alone Christianity." The state, over the years, has maintained its secular foundations intact, he said.
Bishop Kallarangatt had claimed, earlier in September, that Christians in Kerala are being lured by narcotic substances to adopt Islam.
The Jacobite Bishop, Coorilos, however, thinks that Bishop Kallarangatt's statement should be withdrawn. "Pulpits should not be used for polemics," Bishop Coorilos said, in an interview with The Quint.
'Jihad Claim Unfounded'
On 11 September Bishop Coorilos had, in an indirect statement released on social media, criticised the Pala Bishop. "Gospel speaks of love, not hatred," he wrote. Speaking to The Quint, the Bishop who has been in the ministry for over two decades said, "To my knowledge, forced conversions do not happen in Kerala...".
According to Bishop Coorilos, who has been a vocal critic of communal hatred in the country, the Pala Bishop should have "avoided" his statement, as his claim was "not based on facts".
"To make a statement which is derogatory and implicates another religious community as a whole, was uncalled for, and it has only helped to whip up communal sentiments and antagonism among people."Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos
If the Pala Bishop is convinced that such crimes happen, then he should have lodged a police complaint, as that is the option left for him in a "democratic set-up," the bishop further stated.
In Kerala, where there is a strong presence of Christians, "both in terms of numbers and socio-economic influence," there is no need for the community to be afraid, he clarified. Christians form 18.38 percent of Kerala's population.
'Be Vigilant About Statements That Fascists Can Misuse'
Coorilos, who become a priest at the age of 36, said he was particularly taken aback by the Pala Bishop's statement because, to take to priesthood is about being with the downtrodden. The "call" to priesthood means to "embrace everyone, without any barriers and malice". sam
Coorilos is the first bishop to speak to the media about 'narcotics jihad'. He said, "There is no room for hatred, fear or exclusion because love excels on the Cross". The bishop, who has been at the forefront of social justice and land rights protests including the Chengara land struggle of the Adivasis, said that other than the pastoral or spiritual vision, the church also has a "prophetic" responsibility, which is to transform the world.
"I get involved in issues of justice, human rights, environment and so on, because I believe that is part and parcel of my vocation to follow Christ in today’s world."Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos
As forces of neo-imperialism and neo-fascism are "getting stronger across the world", Christian leaders should be vigilant about the 'politics of fear and hate'. "We should be vigilant about these forces and should not fall into their traps by making statements that can be easily misused by such fascist and communal elements," he said, referring to the Pala Bishop's statement. This goes for all those holding important offices and positions, he said.
'Inter-Religious Dialogue Must'
The bishop said that several churches have been holding inter-religious dialogues. Coorilos himself oversees a mission, Samanwaya Matha Sauhruda Vedi (Friendly Religious Congregation) which includes members from non-Christian religious communities.
The organisation holds small gatherings which are mostly celebrations of religious festivals including Iftar gatherings during Islam's holy fasting month of Ramzan. "The other thrust of this initiative is charitable activities" for all religious communities, he said.
The bishop, however, admitted that backward thinking has been plaguing churches which should ideally be welcoming people into the fold. Other than religious tensions, when it comes to caste make up, again several churches are regressive, he said.
Like most other “Syrian” denominations, my church continues to be a “casteist” and an exclusive church. Therefore, to be a progressive priest in a basically conservative church is a challenge to which I am only trying to respond in my own small, humble ways. The challenge continues."Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos
The bishop said that more than tolerance of other religions, the Christian church should practice "inter-religious partnerships". Christians should love and respect people of other religions, he said. The bishop said that "gap between Christ and Christians are widening day by day and the challenge is to bridge this gulf".
"One of the ways this can be done is by educating clergy and laity about the importance of respecting other faiths and people of all faiths and no faith."Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos
The bishop told The Quint that he would continue to hold inter-religious gatherings.
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