Christians in the West outsourcing prayers to India - Taipei Times
Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Christians in the West outsourcing prayers to India

DOLLAR THEOLOGY Due to a shortage of time and priests, European and US Christians can now pay Indian parishes to conduct services for them


The marketing slogan conjured up by Kerala Tourism -- "God's Own Country" -- is proving surprisingly apt now that this picture postcard Indian state, famous for its lush palms and coastline, is becoming a spiritual outsourcing center.

Christians in the US and Europe -- fed up with waiting because of a shortage of priests locally -- are increasingly sending their requests for special prayers or requiem masses to Indian priests who have time to conduct them, albeit in the local language of Malayalam and thousands of kilometers from home.

Those in the know have always said there is no limit to outsourcing, so why restrict the work being sent to India to benefit from its low-cost and abundant skilled labor to mundane matters such as credit card inquiries, rail information and airline ticket processing?

The shortage of priests in the West means that people are confronted with a backlog that their local priest has to clear before their request for a prayer service or mass can be carried out. It makes sense to send them to parishes in Kerala, which has the largest number of churches in India and an abundance of priests.

Requests for "Mass Intentions," as they are known, are pouring in by post, telephone and e-mail. The services involve a fixed fee, which is why they are known locally as the "Dollar Mass."

For instance, a mass that is outsourced from the US is generally charged US$40. A fee for a Mass Intention made in Germany is US$60. For a local Kerala church, such sums for a mass are a significant amount given that the normal local fee is around about US$1.

A senior church member in Cochin said: "We do not want to look at it commercially. But it is a huge service. The churches abroad also see this as an opportunity to help out cash-starved parishes and monasteries here."

Asked if it feels odd to be saying a mass for someone at the other end of the world, Father Barun John, also in Cochin, says: "When I say a mass, I don't look at the origin or person behind it. It might come from a villager in Kerala or from someone in Toronto or Madrid. "My duty is to perform the mass in the most sacred manner."

A Holy Mass at the St Joseph Catholic Church in Cochin was conducted last month for a departed soul in Germany. The memorial service was the request of a German couple who had outsourced it for their son who died of cancer two years ago.

In Thrissur diocese, a morning mass was recently conducted to resolve the marriage woes of soccer star David Beckham. A fan from London paid for the mass so that the soccer star's media nightmare over his "affairs" would end.

Father Paul Thelakkat, a spokesman for the Synod of Bishops in Kochi, says that sending Mass Intentions to other countries is an accepted practice in the church and is becoming more frequent.

In the past, such requests for prayers for thanksgiving, forgiveness or remembrance were directed to an individual priest. These days, they tend to be routed to Kerala through church bodies in the US or Europe who cannot cope with the demand.

"Sometimes we have bishops abroad collecting these requests which they then send to a bishop here who distributes them to various priests to be carried out. These services are strictly monitored by the church," Father Thelakkat says.

Critics warn that unscrupulous priests are scrambling to make a profit, with no way to verify whether the clerics perform the ceremonies. Church officials insist, however, that priests are restricted to one mass a day to prevent the hoarding of requests.

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