An eminent Goan celebrates his 100th birth anniversary this September 17. Lambert Mascarenhas edited in Mumbai the Goan Tribune, a fortnightly dedicated to the cause of Goan Liberation. During a visit to Goa he was arrested and jailed by the colonial Government. He was then expelled from Goa. After Liberation he became the Editor of the Navhind Times and later founded and edited Goa Today. He has authored several books including the classic novel “Sorrowing lies my land”. Prof. Francisco Correia Afonso whilst reviewing it in 1962 said, “This beautiful book produced by Lambert Mascarenhas in a land then foreign, during the period of his exile, has now reached Goa along with the Indian troops that brought us freedom”. Lambert Mascarenhas is a recipient of several awards including the Laxmidas Borkar Memorial Award for Journalism and Goa’s highest civilian award, the Gomant Vibushan.
One of the subjects Lambert Mascarenhas dealt with was the need to restructure Goan Christian life. In an article, published in the Saligao Seminary Souvenir of 2003, he wrote: “The Western bias of Goan Christianity has now to be eradicated, the proclivity that has bestowed on the people a sense of superiority and unindianess... This sense is generated by the erroneous concept of ‘civilization’ which according to them is represented by Christianity: knife and fork at the table, frock-hat and suits and the consumption of liquor… The Church in Goa must now act to dilute the westernization of its flock. As far as possible, Goan Christians must not appear different from the Hindus of Goa.”
The views of Lambert Mascarenhas find resonance in the stated position of the Catholic Church on inculturation. Inculturation is the process by which a particular Church expresses its faith through the local culture. In India the purpose is to make the Church authentically Indian and genuinely Christian.
The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) is the most influential body in the Asian Church. It is a transnational episcopal structure that brings together Bishops Conferences of 18 Asian countries including India and has associate members from 10 other countries. Thus, 28 Asian countries are represented at the FABC. An FABC statement made more than 3 decades ago expresses their insight: “The decisive new phenomenon for Christianity in Asia will be the emergence of genuine Christian communities - Asian in their way of thinking, praying and living”.
Reflecting on the question of inculturation, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) at its general meeting in Kolkata in 1974 solemnly declared: “The Church in India must realize her genuine Indian identity and rid herself of the slur of being foreign which clings to her because of leaning too heavily on foreign support and the style adopted by some of the Christian communities. The Church will realize her Indian identity by adapting herself to the conditions prevailing in the country and developing an indigenous theology.”
In 1991, the FABC Theological Consultation stated: “As a social institution the Church is perceived as a foreign body in its colonial origins whilst other world religions are not. The lingering colonial image survives. The Church is even sometimes seen as an obstacle or threat to national integration and religious identity…The Church remains foreign in its lifestyle, in its institutional structure, in its worship, in its western trained leadership and in its theology. Christian rituals often remain formal, neither spontaneous nor particularly Asian.”
At the Asian Synod of 1998, the Asian Bishops called for “divesting the Western image of the Church in the liturgy, style of life, celebrations and trying to overcome the present image of a powerful, affluent and domineering institution”.
Inculturation was the basic nature of Indian Christianity long before the West arrived here. Christianity was introduced in India around AD 52. This is when Thomas, the Apostle, is believed to have come to Malankara in Kerala. Thomas established a Church which was culturally Indian in every way.
Raimon Panikkar, renowned Spanish Roman Catholic priest and professor at the University of Madrid and at the Harvard Divinity School called for an advaitic Christianity in India. “Christianity ought to become one more Indian sect such as Jainism and Sikhism seeking union with God through Jesus and yet with an undisturbed fidelity to the culture and lifestyle of the land. Much of the West has already understood the value of Indian spirituality. It won’t be long before Indian Christians do likewise and take back their own heritage with pleasure and gratitude”.
Most Goan theologians concur on the need for inculturation. Rev. Vasco do Rego, a pioneer of inculturation in Goa notes “Jesus was born a Jew and lived fully the socio cultural Jewish life. He never sought conversion of anybody to another ‘new religion’, to ‘His’ religion. He called for a new manner of living, a new Way. The new Way of living which Jesus proclaimed opposed injustice, discrimination, marginalization and appealed for an authentic human brotherhood cutting across race and religion. As Christianity spread, diversity of local Churches was an essential part of the Christian vision”. Rev. Desmond de Souza, former Executive Secretary of the Human Development office at the FABC observes, “Roman Catholicism has remained European. The Catholic faith has, by and large, not been allowed to inculturate within the local milieu and so both the faith and the institutions of the Church have remained foreign, an European transplant in a non-European ethos”.
A 12 Point Plan for adapting the liturgy with elements of Indian worship was recommended by the CBCI and approved in 1969. The 12 Point Plan suggested using certain postures during liturgy such as ‘aarti’ as a form of welcome or worship, ‘anjali hasta’, hands folded in prayer, incorporating different devices such as oil lamps as well as different gestures such as touching objects to one’s forehead instead of kissing them, removing footwear whilst entering a sacred place- a more Indian way in the Christian worship and life.
This 12 Point programme has not been implemented in most parts of India. Msgr. Felix Machado, former Under Secretary in the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, did point out that very few Bishops have promoted implementation of the process of inculturation. Fewer still, he says, have educated themselves, their priests and lay people to understand and accept the Twelve Points on inculturation.
In villages of Goa, with hundred percent Konkani speaking population, some masses and other religious services are conducted in English. Whilst in all schools including Diocesan schools Konkani is taught in the devanagri script, the written material circulated in the Church is only in the romi script. It should be both in the romi script, for the older generation, and in devanagri.
The National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) was founded in 1967 to promote the renewal of the Church in the Indian context. It plans to hold a seminar in Bangalore next year, in March or early April, to advance the cause of inculturation. Inculturation of the Catholic Church is overdue and it may not be delayed any further.
(The writer is a former Union Minister)