Now outsource Christian priests from India

Himalayan News Service

London, April 28:

Outsourcing has crossed one more frontier - religion. Now Christian priests in India are conducting ceremonies for the West! A shortage of priests out here has fuelled a global market in prayers-for-cash. When Michael Schumacher won the Australian Grand Prix last month, a German fan paid for a thanksgiving mass apparently in honour of his hero. The fan, however, was unable to attend: the service was held thousands of miles away in Kerala.

As British and American companies outsource their high-tech and service work to India to take advantage of cheap skilled labour, the Roman Catholic Church is also doing the same.

Faced with a shortage of priests in the West, European and American clergy are outsourcing “mass intentions” - requests for services, such as thanksgiving and memorial masses for the dead - to priests and congregations with time on their hands. Each mass is said in front of a public congregation in Malayalam, the local language. Rates vary from country to country: a request from North America or Europe can net a priest three pounds or four pounds; poorer countries pay less.

The Times reported that Kerala Christians trace their heritage back to the First century AD. Many believe that St Thomas visited the region in AD 52 and established seven Christian churches. Roman Catholicism was introduced by the Portuguese at the end of the 15th century and today about a third of the population is Christian. Reports from Kerala say

bishops have had to limit priests to just one mass a day to prevent them from denying others a slice of the pie.

Most of the requests are posted or e-mailed to Kerala bishops, who then share them out among the clergy. Priests who have worked in the West receive direct requests from friends and contacts there. Father Benson Kundulam, who lived in Paris for several years, recently held a requiem mass in Cochin 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 is 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 travelled abroad, gets far fewer foreign requests and more Indian ones, which earn only a third of the money. “If you don’t get personal requests, it is up to the bishops to hand them out,” he said. Church officials say 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,” Paul Thelakat, the spokesman for the Cochin archdiocese, told The Times.