While ‘conversion’ is perhaps the hottest and most debated topic elsewhere in the country, in Daman, its meaning is limited to the amount of rupees you get when you exchange British pounds, even to catholic priests! This isn’t surprising as religious conversions into the catholic faith are unheard of in this tiny former Portuguese enclave which enjoys exemplary communal harmony.
But that’s not all – if you are born into a catholic family, becoming a catholic is much more difficult than a mere conversion, given the bureaucracy and autocracy of the local clergy. Why, even getting the birth of your child registered with governmental agencies is a breeze. If your child is not born in Daman, a priest may go out of his way and advise you to register the birth in Daman all the same, to ensure that he or she is eligible for Portuguese citizenship – your child is a potential donor (British pounds) of the future.
Compare this with the procedure for getting your child baptized: not only are the parents interviewed and antecedents checked prior to your child’s baptism – the godparents are also appraised. Everyone in the family, including the grandparents on either side, should be ‘good Catholics.’ If any of these players are found not to be attending mass, there’ll be ‘problems.’ Even you as parents, cannot exercise your choice of who will be the godparents of your own child – if one of the proposed godparents does not go to church regularly, they may be turned down by the priest and advised to show improvement in the ensuing six months, during which they will be under ‘observation.’ Again, there is no system of maintaining any sort of ‘attendance registers’ at churches – information is garnered via rumour mills, hearsay and sycophants and then shared among the clergy. However, if you happen to be influential or a generous donor, a Nelson’s eye will be turned to whatever perversions you may have and you may even be given place of honour at ceremonies.
But your trials as parents are far from over – ‘counselling sessions’ follow, which culminate in a rehearsal of the baptismal ceremony. In my own case, one of those holier-than-thou types from Mumbai conducted the sessions, as I was a ‘difficult’ case for the padres.
While Christianity promises ultimate freedom, words like ‘compulsory,’ ‘mandatory,’ etc., used in circulars and announcements in churches never fail to amaze me, more so when we are not only living in the 21st century but in the world’s biggest democracy. One priest even thanked the congregation thus, “Thank you all, for obeying me.” As I write this, I am informed that it’s ‘compulsory’ for couples getting married this season to buy raffles worth at least Rs2000. Like the sheep we are expected to be, we bend to autocracy that very often lacks the requisite authority.
One thing the clergy don’t get right is our culture, though I don’t blame them as they are Goans and our culture is alien to them. They address concerns like ‘dowry,’ and the notorious ‘Indian mother-in-law’ – issues that are irrelevant to the local culture where these are non-entities. It is becoming fashionable to invite priests from Mumbai for preaching during novenas – except for the diction, the theme is the same as the preachers are either Goan or East-Indian. Having no insight into our unique Indo-Portuguese culture, all they achieve is to incite such ideas into the simple minds of our people. I have heard irresponsible statements being made during sermons in public places, like “Mothers, leave your sons alone!”
The focus, seems to be on young couples, while neglect and in a few cases, physical abuse of aging parents, have never been addressed so far. It’s probably their convenient interpretation of ‘leave the dead to bury the dead.’
It has also become ‘mandatory’ for couples to attend counselling sessions before marriage, conducted by visiting priests or lay people with dubious credentials, causing more harm than good, as is obvious by the unprecedented spate of separations, divorce and marital disharmony in a town previously renowned for producing ‘until-death-do-us-part’ couples.
The vicious circle goes on – for ages, the Catholics of Damão, have opted to first go to their parish priest for arbitration, whether for marital problems or property disputes and obviously, the priest is not competent to redress these issues as he lacks the qualifications and more importantly, first-hand experience. But this is not as serious as the role he tends to play – being privy to all information from both parties, he decides whose side to take, based on his grapevine information and which of the parties is more supportive of his personal agendas.
Scandalous conduct of our priests are as old as our local history, with sex and alcoholism part of the script – ‘A Father becomes a father,’ would make a great title – but what is perturbing now is the entry of greed for power and money above everything else. Not only are more and more demands being made for donations from the immigrants working in the UK, but the priests themselves have started going on trips abroad to collect funds from these emigrants, especially to Leicester where they are concentrated. Those locals who are still awaiting their Portuguese passport, are perforce obliged to match the pound-donation in rupees to save face!
Another thing of concern is not just the big number of religious festivals – it’s the pomp and spending associated with them. These festivals stress more on the decorations and the gastronomic feast that follows, rather than worship. Each successive ‘sponsor’ is intent on outdoing the previous one, egged on by regular announcements in church to let the left hand know exactly what the right hand has been doing! After the service, besides the feast that usually follows for ordinary invitees, the sponsors have to throw a lavish banquet exclusively for the local clergy and their guests from neighbouring parishes and make sure that drinks flow like water.
Many of my fellow Damanenses have been approaching me with their grouses and asked me to start a signature campaign. Everyone is scared to even comment, leave alone complain or protest, lest they get the stigma of an outcast. I have been putting it off simply because of its distasteful nature – until this evening, on assignment for covering the inauguration of the prayer hall dedicated to Christ the King in Big Daman, for a Portuguese magazine. The project cost is estimated at Rs25,00,000 and I was told donations were in many cases, reluctantly made. As I dutifully clicked away with my Nikon, in one blinding flash, it all struck me as a big mockery… perhaps like Cain’s offering? And therefore, I decided to send this message to the mockers… we may have blind faith, but we are not blind. I hope they see the light too.
I have been as candid as in a confession, though it may be likened to slapping the local clergy on one cheek – think they’ll offer me the other cheek, like true followers of Christ? I’d like to bet every pound I have, that they’d prefer to burn me at the stake. But that would make me like them – judging people before Judgement Day.
I don’t think I can join in the mockery and wish my readers the usual, ‘Merry Christmas’ as I would be doing worse than Pontius Pilate – crucifying Christ on His Birthday. But in the true spirit of Christmas, let us forgive them even though they know pretty well what they are doing and let nobody ever take our faith away, nor make us less charitable because there’s still hope.