[lit-ideas] Outsourcing Religion

  • From: "Peter D. Junger" <junger@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Literature and Ideas List <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 14 May 2004 16:32:28 -0400

Guoted from:

South Asia Citizens Wire   |  5 May,  2004
via:  www.sacw.net

                 ---------------


Asia Times
May 1, 2004

OUTSOURCING RELIGION, ON A WING AND A PRAYER
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 newspaper.
"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 money here.
"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 
dollars."
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 jobs.
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



--
Peter D. Junger--Case Western Reserve University Law School--Cleveland, OH
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