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India's warring Christian factions start negotiations

Communist chief minister of Kerala suggested a referendum, but one faction rejected it

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: September 24, 2020 10:37 AM GMT
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India's warring Christian factions start negotiations

The headquarters of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kottayam, Kerala. (Photo: Wikipedia

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The communist government in India's Kerala state has stepped in to resolve a long-standing feud between two warring factions of Christians after their fight spilled over to the streets.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who leads the only communist-led government in the country, invited the warring Jacobite and Orthodox factions to the state secretariat on Sept. 21.

Vijayan listened to the groups separately in his attempt to find a consensus to end the dispute relating to ownership of churches and landed properties they owned before they split in 1911.

Vijayan suggested a referendum to end the dispute, Father Johns Abraham Kanat, spokesperson of the Orthodox Church, told UCA News on Sept. 23.

"But we have rejected the idea of a referendum as it violates the top court's judgment," he said.

Church officials said Vijayan spent over an hour with Jacobite leaders in the first half of the day and then close to two hours with the Orthodox faction.

Both sides have agreed to continue with the dialogue for an amicable solution and agreed to meet on Oct. 5.

The Jacobite faction wanted the chief minister to issue an ordinance to circumvent a 2017 Supreme Court order giving the upper hand to the Orthodox faction over the Church's temporal properties.

But the Orthodox faction is insisting on implementation of the order, Father Kanat said.

Both the groups were part of the indigenous Malankara Church, a branch of Antioch's Syrian Orthodox Church. But a split in 1911 led to the establishment of the Orthodox Church, which has its supreme head in Kerala.

The Jacobites continue to consider the Patriarch of Antioch as their head.

The Supreme Court in 2017 ordered more than 1,100 churches now under the control of the Jacobite faction to be handed over to the Orthodox faction.

The Orthodox faction's attempt to take over churches and the Jacobites' resistance resulted in street fights and protests in Kerala.

The Orthodox side also moved the state High Court seeking the state implement the Supreme Court order. It forced the state administration and police to take over some 50 churches from Jacobites for the Orthodox faction.

Although the Orthodox faction insists on the implementation of the Supreme Court order, Father Kanat said leaders are open to discussions.

"We want a peaceful settlement. We don't chase away anyone from any church as was being projected," Father Kanat said.

Joseph Mar Gregorios, the metropolitan trustee and senior bishop of the Jacobite Church, said they were also looking for "a peaceful settlement."

"We are hopeful that some fruitful results will come out of this meeting," he told UCA News on Sept. 23.

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