Mounted on a donkey, the priest moved slowly as boys and young men waved palm branches and sang hymns to Jesus during a Palm Sunday procession in a central Indian parish. Father Thomas Rajamanikam and his parishioners at St. Joseph Church in Nanda Nagar, Indore Diocese enacted the biblical account of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem, an event Catholics commemorate on Palm Sunday, which this year fell on March 25.
The parish priest on a donkey leading the Palm Sunday procession
surprised many. Kanti Kumrawat, a grandmother and parishioner, said it was first time they had had such a procession and never heard of any other parish in the vicinity having commemorated the event in such a way. Donkeys are easily available in northern India to carry farms products in villages that lack proper roads, and to carry construction materials such as cement and sand through the narrow lanes in cities and towns. Kumrawat said she has "never seen any priest riding on the back of a donkey. This needs extraordinary humility,” said the women, who lives in the Hindu dominant state of Madhya Pradesh where Christians are less than one percent of the 73 million people. She said the "live depiction” helped her and other grandmothers to explain the "story of Palm Sunday” in better way story to their grandchildren. The priest on a donkey made children interested to know about the story too, she said. Her grandchild Abhinav Kumtrawat said he is used to see donkeys carrying stones and bricks but never a human being. "The priest clothed in vestments sitting on a donkey made me giggle. But my grandma told me the story,” he said. Father Rajamanikam told ucanews.com that his purpose was to recreate
Palm Sunday and to help people understand the humble life Jesus lived. "We are now after luxuries and comforts with even the Christian charity missing. Jesus chose to travel on a donkey when he could have afforded a horse. It should inspire us to lead a simple life,” he said. John Bastian, a parishioner, said the 30-minute precession within the church compound "will be a memorable one” because "riding on a donkey will be treated nothing less than madness.” But Father Rajamanikam's action became "a wake-up call for all of us to shed our egos and stick with Christian values of humility,” he said. The priest said he wanted to do something to inspire the people and just a few days earlier got the idea and found a man with two donkeys and booked one. "Was not sure how the animal will behave, but after the blessing it, it became calm until the procession got over,” he said. Sister Prabha Dabi, told ucanews.com she felt like "walking with Jesus” and that the event gave her an opportunity to understand how "gloriously Jesus was treated before his crucifixion.”
Hermon Francis, a parish lay leader said they could not organize the procession through public roads because they lacked time to approach the administration for necessary permissions.
Francis said such a procession through public roads could have "helped us showcase the values we Christians stand for” amid growing discrimination of Christians in the country.
Madhya Pradesh is considered one of the worst of 29 Indian states with regards to Christians reporting violence and intimidation from Hindu groups. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian peoples party) has ruled the state for 15 years.
The state witnessed the largest number of anti-Christian incidents in India last year, according to a report by Persecution Relief
, an ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution in India. It witnessed 52 attacks against Christians in 2017, up from 28 in 2016, the report said. Attacks have increased since the BJP came to power in New Delhi in 2014. There were 736 reported attacks against Christians in 2017, up from 348 in 2016, said Persecution Relief.