‘Narcotics Jihad’: Why is a Catholic Nun Asking a Kerala Bishop to Apologise?
Sr Teena Jose, a Syrian Catholic nun, comes out openly against Bishop Kallarangattu's 'narcotics jihad' claim.
(This story was first published on 14 September 2021. It is being republished on 2 November in view of the Pala Bishop getting booked for his 'narcotics jihad' remark.)
When she was 15, Teena Jose was not allowed to step out of her home because her father did not want her to join a nunnery. Two years later, she got coronated as Sister Teena Jose, despite severe opposition from her family of five brothers and a sister.
Now, Sister Jose says, her artisan father, Joseph Puthussery, would have laughed at her for joining the Congregation of Mother of Carmel – a Syrian Catholic order of Kerala. Why?
“He would not have digested the fact that a Syrian Catholic Bishop (Mar Joseph Kallarangatt) decided to create enmity between Muslims and Christians in Kerala,” she said. Sr Teena Jose belongs to a Syrian Catholic nunnery.
In an interview with The Quint, Sister Jose, the only catholic nun to have come out openly against Bishop Kalarangatt for coining the term ‘narcotics jihad’, said, “I will not side with injustice. I love Christ that much”.
Sr Jose is a 68-year-old senior nun, who is currently based in Eranakulam, Kerala. She has been a nun for the past 43 years.
Earlier on 13 May, four nuns of a Latin Catholic order had staged a walkout against a priest for echoing the bishop’s alleged Islamophobic statement. However, staging a huge protest in Pala Kottayam, the Syro-Malabar Church has come out in support of the bishop. The Archbishop of Pala's Syro-Malabar church, Joseph Perumthottam, has also supported Bishop Kallarangatt. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party has asked the Centre to 'investigate' the bishop’s charge.
According to Bishop Kalarangatt, lured by drugs supplied by Muslim youth, Christians in Kerala have been 'falling prey' to religious conversion to Islam. He called this 'narcotics jihad', in the first week of September.
Why Does Sister Jose Oppose the Bishop’s Statement?
As a child, young Teena Jose was disinterested in her father’s trade as an artisan. While her father and brothers traveled around Kerala constructing ornate gates and stalls at community fairs, she used to change two buses to reach a faraway church just so that she could attend holy mass every morning.
Coming from such a pious background, when she became a nun at the age of 18 at Ranimatha Convent, Sister Jose says she, “committed not just to the Canon law of the Catholic church but also to the law of the land”.
A manager at Little Flower school run by her nunnery, and an advocate by profession, Sr Jose says she “had vowed to serve people” and “not cause rifts between communities”. Strongly criticising Bishop Kallarangatt, she said, “Such statements do not reflect the sentiments of a majority of the Christians. Bishops and others in ordained power should not resort to such divisive statements”.
The bishop’s statement clearly indicates “he is not qualified to lead the congregation and the church,” she said, sharply.
“Inter-religious marriages have been happening since decades in Kerala. I myself have come across such couples who are either living happily or miserably, depending on their marital fate. There is no basis for the bishop to think that such marriages are coerced,” she explained.
Sr Jose, accused the bishop of not following the word of God; “Love one another.” She told The Quint, “Earlier, the Syrian Catholic churches were against Communists and used to support the Congress. But now, leaving the Congress and the Communists behind, they want to support the BJP. It is shameful”. Clergy should not engage in politics, she said. “All that I pray for is peace for people,” Sr Jose explained her philosophy, adding that bishops should try to solve the real problems of the community.
‘Know the Flock Intimately’
Worried that Christians are leaving the church, bishops in Kerala are coming up with bizarre explanations for the laity’s disinterest in faith, she said. “That is because, they are not serving the people the way they should. Us nuns, we work with the people. We work with those who do not have homes or educational and employment opportunities. We know the pulse of the people and they do not,” she accused, wryly.
Citing the Roman Catholic church’s decision to incentivise families to have more than four children, the nun asked, “Do they know how much it costs to bring up a child? Can families with no roof over their head bring up over four children. The directive is unabashedly misinformed”.
"To draw people to the church, those bishops who are inclined towards politics should instead work closely with the people to understand their problems", Sr Jose said.
Many Christians are living in poverty. Those in power in the church should find ways to attract them to the church, through spirituality that understands material reality, she explained. “Christ preached to the poor after feeding them. They need to learn from the Bible,” she rued.
‘Treat All Communities with Respect’
Sister Jose further said that Bishop Kalarangatt should become socially aware. “Where was he when a nun’s body was found inside a well in Kollam? Should the bishop not have expressed his concerns then?” she asked, adding that the clergy should fight against injustices in society and within the church.
Speaking against a community, without understanding the social reality of that community is wrong, she added. “Muslims and Hindus around our nunnery express more faith and trust in us sisters, than Christians. What does that show? People respond positively to good faith,” she stressed.
Should the bishop retract his statement?
The bishop should withdraw his statement and apologise, she said. If the bishop does not, the church should not support him, she said. “For the bishop, to organize a protest in his favour would be just a phone call away. But the laity should understand that and should not support a priest who has no humanity,” she said, exhorting Christians to condemn the bishop’s statements.
Is she not concerned about the alleged ‘narcotics jihad’?
“Islamic State is a terror outfit. If they are recruiting people, they should be opposed. But Muslims, in general, should not be condemned.”Sr Teena Jose
Moreover, the church should inculcate “unwavering Christian religious values in the laity” so that they will not be swayed at the drop of a hat. “This is just common sense. I hope the bishop understands this,” she added.
Sr Jose said she is not worried about the Catholic church’s reaction to her dissent. “I love Christ and the Lord the Father, as much as I used to love them during my childhood. That won’t change and I am not afraid,” she told The Quint.
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