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Retreat Centers Welcome Bishops´ Decision To Check Retreat Activities

Updated: December 20, 2007 05:00 PM GMT
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Some retreat preachers in Kerala have welcomed a plan of regional bishops to develop guidelines to make sure charismatic retreat centers do not deviate from Catholic teachings.

"We welcome the decision to have guidelines for the charismatic retreat centers," said Father Augustine Vallooran, who directs English retreats at Divine Retreat Centre, one of Asia´s largest retreat centers.

The Vincentian priest told UCA News on Dec. 19 the bishops´ decision will help end the bishops´ apprehensions about retreat centers in the southern Indian state, where the charismatic movement began about 30 years ago.

At the end of the annual meeting of the Kerala Catholic Bishops´ Council, held Dec. 12-13, an official announced the bishops´ plan to issue guidelines that would impact all Catholic retreat centers in Kerala within three months.

"It´s good for all," commented Father John Kakkat of Chittoor Retreat Centre, which functions under Ernakulam-Angamaly Syro-Malabar archdiocese.

The council brings together 31 bishops from the three rites that constitute the Catholic Church in Kerala. The Latin rite, introduced by European missioners in the 16th century, has 11 dioceses. The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara, both of them Oriental Churches that follow the Syrian liturgy, have 15 and five dioceses, respectively.

After announcing the plan, Father Stephen Alathara, the council´s deputy secretary, told UCA News the bishops have formed a commission to study how retreat centers are functioning. He said many of Kerala´s approximately 1,000 Catholic retreat centers operate without the knowledge of Church authorities and their preaching sometimes deviates from authentic Catholic teachings. The state has about 6 million Christians in a population of 31 million.

Father Alathara said controversy involving one retreat center forced the bishops to pay attention to these centers. "Control is necessary," he added.

Father Paul Thelakat, the Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson and a retreat preacher, said the bishops worry that some charismatic centers are "sowing the seeds of Pentecostalism" among Catholics. "There is a feeling" several centers preach "a health-and-wealth Gospel" that promotes a "consumer spirituality" and in many cases deviates from authentic Catholic teachings, he said.

Such preaching sometimes denies "rationality in faith matters, giving undue stress to wonders and healings, leading to superstitions," and sometimes such preachers interpret Scripture out of context, he pointed out.

Father Thelakat estimates about 15 percent of Catholics In recent years have joined Pentecostal Churches. Kerala´s bishops, fearing laypeople may equate the charismatic movement with Pentecostalism, wish to "guide and direct these centers in the true spirit of the age-old tradition of the Church," he said.

One Catholic charismatic leader says the guidelines should not control such centers. Thomas Devaprasad, a journalist-turned-charismatic leader, told UCA News "strict control" would "kill the spirit of charismatic movement." He said he welcomes the plan, but the guidelines should be "positive, not negative."

Devaprasad also said he is against bishops "institutionalizing charismatic movement." If it aims to interfere in the daily administration and activities, it would destroy the centers, he warned. Retreat centers in Kerala manage without "any financial help" from dioceses, he said, and the guidelines would choke these centers if they are meant to control funds flowing to the centers.

END

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