Big family, happy `Christian' family
Kerala’s Catholic Church, distressed that the faithful have chosen family planning, exhorts more procreation
KA SHAJI Thiruvananthapuram
GO FORTH and multiply,” the Bible says God told Adam, and that’s what the Catholic Church in Kerala is directing its flock to do too. The state’s family planning programme has been the country’s most successful, but that doesn’t seem to have impressed the Church, which is worried over a drop in Christian numbers from 19.5 percent of Kerala’s population in 1991 to 19 percent ten years later. There is also the Keralite passion for quality education, which has taken large numbers of young people out of the state, leaving behind a rather grey aspect to the Christian age demographic — in most parishes here, active members are rarely younger than 60.
So, borrowing perhaps from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which exhorted Hindus to boost their numbers a few years ago, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) has called on the faithful to say goodbye to family planning. An umbrella organisation of 29 Catholic dioceses, the KCBC has directed its parishioners to not be overly worried about the economic constraints that make family planning an attractive option. Instead, a massive social security project has been constituted to come to their rescue, with financial and emotional assistance for families with more than two children. “Catholic parents with large families can now look forward to plenty of material, emotional and spiritual support from the clergy in bringing them up,” says KCBC deputy secretary Father Stephen Alathara.
Free education and healthcare are just the start of the package; another area of focus is a campaign against abortions. “We want to promote and encourage a pro-life policy,” says Cardinal Varkey Vithyathil. He is not, however, prepared to accept the suggestion that the Church is worried at the dwindling numbers of its followers. “This is not about increasing numbers. We have seen the ill effects of nuclear families. While we understand that economically disadvantaged parents may find it difficult to have more than two children, our plan to provide free education and healthcare to families after the birth of their third child will, we hope, encourage them to have a rethink before limiting the number of their children.”
Last year, Vithayathil had, in a pastoral letter read out at Sunday Masses across the state, reminded believers of the need to uphold what he called responsible parenthood. If Kerala’s Christians continued with their present negative growth trends, by 2050 half their population would be made up of the old, the letter warned.
THE CHURCH also wants to emphasise the Christian concept of love and marriage, which ties sexuality to procreation. Parents should bring forth more offspring and rear them in Christian piety rather than take the easy, unethical course of limiting family sizes, said a priest closely associated with the KCBC.
KCBC family commission secretary, Father Jose Kottayil says, “We are planning to provide life guidance training to youngsters. It would help them become aware of the Christian concept of families.” He goes on to blame largescale migration to foreign countries and the “micro-family” syndrome for keeping Kerala’s Catholics static in number. “Our community is well educated and economically better off. Many young parents have only one child to ensure social security, even if they have the means to afford to raise more children,’’ he points out. Vithyathil blames this on “the gross materialism, the weak or corrupted churches and the widespread rejection of Christian beliefs in the West. These have made it easy to convince the public to swallow population control propaganda.”
The move has already irked the Sangh Parivar. “Kerala’s Muslims are always against family planning. Now the Christians are also going the same way,” said a top leader from the Kerala BJP, preferring anonymity. “Both communities are now controlling most of the resources of the state, and an increase in their numbers will definitely create tensions in the future.”