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Bishops Want Catholic Baby Boom To Halt Slide In Kerala Christian Community

Updated: September 13, 2007 05:00 PM GMT
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Worried over a dwindling Christian population in Kerala, a Catholic prelate in the southern Indian state has encouraged families to have more babies.

Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur, who has called for a parish poster campaign against birth control, says Kerala Christians recorded zero growth in terms of percentage of the population during the decade between the last two national censuses.

In 1991, Christians accounted for 19.5 percent of Kerala´s 29.09 million people. The state´s population increased to 31.84 million in 2001, but the percentage of Christians dropped to 19 percent.

"It´s a dangerous trend. Our community is shrinking day by day," Archbishop Thazhath told UCA News Sept 10. Other communities are "growing steadily" and the "trend should open our eyes," he added.

In a pastoral letter read out the previous day in all parishes in his archdiocese, the prelate asked his people to uphold Christian morality. He also urged parishes to start poster campaigns to sensitize people about the sanctity of life and the threat abortion and contraception pose to this.

Catholics account for most of the state´s Christians. The Syro-Malabar Church, an Oriental rite, has around 3.5 million members in 15 dioceses. It and the other Oriental rite in the state, the Syro-Malankara Church, which has about 500,000 members, trace their origins to Saint Thomas the Apostle and follow Syrian Church traditions. Another 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Latin rite, which uses the Roman liturgy introduced by Portuguese missioners in the 15th century. The three rites form the Indian Catholic Church.

According to Archbishop Thazhath, his Syro-Malabar Church is growing the slowest, since young parents opt for small families. "The only way to overcome this crisis is to have more babies and honor the sanctity of life," he said.

All the archdiocese´s parishes observed the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mother on Sept. 8 as Pro-life Day. The Kerala Catholic Bishops´ Council (KCBC), the common forum of all the state´s bishops, declared 2007 the Year of Life and Family.

The decline in Christian population has worried the Church for some time. In an August 2006 pastoral letter, Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly urged his people to have more babies.

Father Jose Kottayil, secretary of the KCBC Commission for Family, says large-scale migration and the "micro-family" syndrome have kept Kerala Catholics from increasing relative to other communities.

Thousands of families migrate annually to Australia, Canada, Europe, the Persian Gulf and the United States. "Our community is well educated and economically better off. Many young parents are having only one child to ensure social security," even if they have the means to afford to raise more children, the priest said.

The Church has devised various ways to educate young parents about responsible parenthood, Father Kottayil continued. "We are going to educate our community to raise children in a socially and spiritually responsible environment."

The Catholic Church plans to give educational scholarships to children from big families, the priest revealed.

"We will also educate (Catholics) to share their resources and provide job opportunities" when the children grow and enter the labor force, he said. "We have to change the mindset of the people. It may take some more time."


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