The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Xian priests join India's outsourcing bandwagon

Mumbai, April 19: Catholic priests in flowing white cassocks are the latest to join India's booming outsourcing bandwagon.

Faced with a shortage of clergymen and dwindling churchgoers, Catholic churches in Europe, the United States and Latin America are seeking the services of Indian priests to run parishes and say Mass, church officials said. "I would call it a twist of history. It's a reversal of roles taking place," Father Paul Thelakkat, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in southern state of Kerala said.

The Syro Malabar Church in Kerala, with an estimated 3.3 million followers, is a major contributor of clergymen for overseas missions.

The 18-million-strong Indian catholic church says up to 5,000 priests are working in Europe, the United States, Africa and Latin America.

The growing influence of the Indian catholic church became evident when Vatican experts tossed up the name of Bombay's archbishop, Ivan Dias, as the only serious Asian contender for the next pope.

Cardinal Dias spent more than 30 years of his priestly career serving the Church outside India and his proximity to Pope John Paul II and engagements in different continents have helped raise his profile as the leading candidate from Asia.

"Outsourcing has become a part of life and the church is no exception to it," said Henry D'Souza, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's Commission for Social Communication.

"There are several Europe-based religious congregations which move Indian priests to anywhere in the world according to each one's skills and requirement," he said.

Companies and governments from the United States to Europe have tapped into India's huge army of knowledge workers to handle sophisticated software services or take helpdesk phone calls at a fraction of the cost in their countries.

Exports of software and information technology-enabled services from India jumped 35 per cent to $17.3 billion in the past year that ended on March 31, industry estimates showed.

Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd, India's top three software services companies, get about 90 per cent of their revenue from the United States and Europe.

PAYBACK TIME

Not long ago, missionaries from congregations such as the Society of Jesus, the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Society of the Divine Word trekked to remote regions in India to establish the religion by setting up schools and colleges.

"We now have enough priests. So we can afford to send them overseas for serving the church there. They are very good at languages as well," Thelakkat said.

Indian clergymen are either assisting local priests or are overseeing parishes in Germany, the United States, Latin America and even in Africa.

Church officials said India's estimated 25,000 priests and 90,000 nuns would grow as the vibrant Catholic community generated thousands of new vocations every year.

"The universality of church also helps Indian priests serve anywhere in the world," D'Souza said.

Indian priests working in Europe and America also pull in cash for the church back home, but estimates are hard to come by.

"The main objective is to serve the poor countries in Africa," Thelakkat said. "It's not the best idea to serve the church and make money."

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