Fr. John Edison, the Parish priest of Eraiyur received a petition signed by 15 dalit representatives explaining their grievances, especially the threats and attacks of some youth from the caste group on some of their own community members from 7 October 2007 onwards. They told him of their decision to have all the liturgical celebrations in their Sagayamadha chapel under the direction of their "People's Association" (Makkal Manram). They sent a copy of this petition to the Archbishop and other 21 persons listed in the petition (See Annexure 2).21 November 2007
ARepresentatives of the dalit group met Most Rev. Dr. Antony Anandarayar, Archbishop of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, and expressed that for the past 50 years, they have been experiencing discriminations in the village on the basis of caste and that they could not go to the parish church any more for liturgical services. They placed before him their demand for a separate parish.
The Archbishop listened to them with care and attention, received their petition and promised to do the needful. Accordingly an Advisory Committee consisting of four persons under the headship of Very Rev. Fr. P. Antonisamy, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese was formed and deputed to look into the matter and submit a report.26 November 2007
After five days of their meeting with the Archbishop, they announced independently that from 09 December 2007 their chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Sagayamatha Chapel) would start functioning as a parish and all the liturgical celebrations hereafter would take place there (See Annexure 3 for the memorandum of the Dalit Representatives).9 December 2007 : "Dalit Liberation Sunday"
Fr. Jeyaseelan, a priest of Chenglepet diocese celebrated Mass in the Sagayamatha chapel, baptized two children and distributed First Holy Communion to a child, illegally, that is, without due permission. The dalit Christians declared for themselves a new parish with Sagayamatha chapel as the parish church.13 December 2007
The same group met the Vicar General in the Archbishop's House Pondicherry and requested him to arrange for a weekly Mass in their chapel. The V. G advised them to give up their 'confrontationist approach' and promised to do the needful in consultation with the Archbishop. He also asked them not to invite priests any more from outside for liturgical celebrations and instructed them to register the baptisms in the parish Baptism Register with the parish priest. But they did not change their ways and continued to invite priests from outside the diocese and these priests added fuel to fire provoking the caste group for a confrontation.8 February 2008
To restore peace in the parish is the primary concern of the Archbishop and so at the recommendation of the Advisory Committee's report, he allowed weekly, - on Mondays- celebration of the Holy Eucharist in their chapel. The priest-in-charge Fr. Elias conveyed this decision of the Archbishop to Mr. Simon, the leader of the "People's Association" (Makkal Manram) asking him to speak to the dalit Christians about it and report to him their response, which Mr. Simon has not done till date!7 March 2008
Not satisfied with the decision of the Archbishop, the dalit group calls for a "Fast unto Death" till the Archbishop officially recognizes the "Sagayamatha Parish" created by them as a separate parish. Printed notices and posters were circulated everywhere (See Annexure 4) . The notice reads like this:
"Let the blood of Christ wash away the filth of caste and community… and the rest will be thwarted by the people's war..."
It adds, The dalit people of Eraiyur, Villupuram District have been subject to communal slavery in the name of religion. The new Parish of Sagayamatha Church has taken shape on 9 December, 2007 in view of liberating them from this situation and the Fast would go on indefinitely from 7 March onwards until the Archbishop of Pondicherry -Cuddalore recognizes the new Parish ...
During the days of the "Fast unto Death", they spoke ill of the Church leaders and the caste group. A few of them went to the extent of putting up notices against the vanniar Christians and their leaders thus provoking them to a confrontation.8 March 2008
The Eraiyur problem, which so far remained a problem of the local church, has now come to be politicized. Posters carrying slogans against the Archbishop and the caste group were pasted on the walls of the parish church and in other places during the night time.9 March 2008
The above incident is the last straw that created a situation of instability and tension provoking the anger of the caste group. Many caste people gathered in front of the parish church around 8.00 am in the morning. Seeing the posters on the church walls, in a fit of anger and emotion, they rushed to the streets of the dalit people and attacked and caused heavy damages to their houses and properties. Unexpected outbreak of riots and total calamity everywhere!
The situation became uncontrollable and police had to intervene with lathi charge. Finally the police resorted to firing in which 2 young men from the caste group fell victims and many others from both sides got injured and have been admitted in the hospital. The village was put under curfew.
Immediately, the Archbishop of Pondicherry - Cuddalore sent a petition to the Honorable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu requesting his intervention (see Annexure 4).10 March 2008
The Archbishop sent his Vicar General and the Procurator and a few other priests to Eraiyur to console the affected people and to assess the situation. Accordingly, the V. G and others met the relatives of the deceased and expressed their sympathy and solidarity. They went through all the streets of the dalit people and consoled them. They expressed their solidarity with them and assured their solidarity with them and assured them of immediate relief measures.11 March 2008
Following the riot, a Peace Meeting was held with the representatives of the Vanniyar and Dalit Christians. The meeting was presided over by Honorable Minister for Higher Education, Dr. K. Ponmudi. District Collector, Prajendra Navneeth, Villupuram District and Mr Amalraj, Superintendent of Police, Villupuram District, along with Revenue Officials participated in the meeting. Some priests representing the Archdiocese also participated in it.
It was proposed and accepted in the meeting that the issue of a separate parish for the Dalit Christians at Eraiyur was to be considered in the Senate meeting of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry - Cuddalore to be held on 13th March, 2008. The Diocese agreed to conduct prayers (Mass) at Sagaya Matha Chapel once in a week on Monday evenings at 5.00 pm. Honorable minister for Higher Education, Dr. K. Ponmudi said that the Government has appealed to the people to co-operate with the District Administration and police for maintaining peace at Eraiyur. The government has distributed Rs.2 lakhs as solatium to the family members of the deceased. The Revenue Officials under the supervision of the R.D.O. of Villupuram were asked to survey and assess the damage caused by violence at Eraiyur.12 March 2008
TThe Directors of our two Multi-Purpose Social Service Societies (PMSSS and SAMSSS) went to Eraiyur and consoled the affected people. They assessed the damages caused to the houses and properties of the Dalit Christians. On 13th and 14th March they procured the required provisions and materials, and on 15th and 16th, they were at Eraiyur distributing these provisions and materials to the Dalits as immediate relief measures.13 March 2008
TThe Archdiocesan Senate meeting was held in the Archbishop's house. It was unanimously decided in the meeting that the dalit Christians at Eraiyur would not be granted a separate parish on caste basis, as it would go against the spirit of the Gospel message and the norms of the Church. A Committee consisting of 6 priests including the Vicar General and 2 lay people was constituted. This Committee was to visit Eraiyur on 15 March, hold talks with 5 representatives of the caste group and the Dalit community respectively, meet and console the affected parties on both sides. It was their duty also to look into the reasons behind these untoward incidents and suggest to the Archbishop the apt measures to be taken. It was also decided in the meeting that relief Measures would be extended to the affected people through the PMSSS and SAMSSS.
This message was made available to the media by the Vicar General of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, and the same was also conveyed to the Honourable Mininster for Higher Education, Govt of Tamil Nadu through a letter (See Annexure 5)16 March 2008
Media flashed the news that many dalit parishes had been closed down but in fact only in a few parishes Palm Sunday celebrations were not held because of the alleged protest of the dalit Christians condemning the Eraiyur incident.17 March 2008
Fifteen dalit priests met the Archbishop who listened to them and expressed his concerns regarding the dalit community at Eraiyur. The Archbishop also took note of all the important issues and promised them to do the needful. This meeting went on for three hours.
In the afternoon priests had, as usual, their recollection, followed by the Eucharistic adoration and confessions.
A banner with the demand of the arrest of the Archbishop had been put up in the morning in front of the Cathedral Church. By 5.20 pm, when the Chrism mass was about to begin, the Youth Jesus Association of the Cathedral church and the faithful who had come for Mass were agitated seeing the banner and sat in dharna on the Cathedral road demanding the removal of the banner. After an hour of agitation, it was finally removed by the PWD at the District Collector's order. Though delayed, the Chrism was celebrated peacefully.
However, some dalit priests boycotted the Chrism mass and remained in the Archbishop's House. While the Mass was going on in the Cathedral, they had a press meet in the Archbishop's House.
After the Mass, some Dalit activists entered the Archbishop's House shouting slogans against the Archbishop and the priests.18 March 2008
The Archbishop, with a Jesuit, a Claretian and a Salesian priests as common mediators, met the representatives of various dalit movements from 10 am to 1 pm. A meeting was held for all the Diocesan priests from 2. 30 pm to 5. 30 pm to discuss the various aspects and intricacies involved in the problems of Eraiyur and in the demands of the dalit Christians there. This meeting was mediated by Fr. Xavier sj, Fr. Durairaj sdb and Fr. Vincent cmf. Consensus was arrived at in the Priests' meeting on important issues and as an exception, the Pascal Triduum celebrations were allowed to take place this year alone in the Sagayamatha Chapel. Then the Archbishop met the media persons and released the Statement concerning the problems at Eraiyur both in Tamil (Annexure 6) and English. The English version is as follows:
The church road, namely the main road leading to the Parish church at Eraiyur village is to be freely used by all the Catholic faithful, irrespective of caste, for purposes of marriage, funeral and other common celebrations.
The Eraiyur parish church shall have one funeral car (thoomba) kept in common in the church premise under the custody of the parish priest and is to be used by all the Catholic faithful without any caste discrimination.
Subscription for the parochial feast is to be collected from all the Catholic families irrespective of caste.
In addition to the customary route followed so far, the parochial feast car procession will be further extended by taking the car procession through the Kurumbur road upto the Assisi Hospital.
Wherever it is possible, we shall arrange for new cemetery which will remain common and open to all the Catholics irrespective of caste.
HThese resolutions are to be implemented from March 20th 2008 by the implementation committee constituted by the Archbishop. We extend our sincere thanks to the Governments of Tamilnadu and Pondicherry and all the Revenue and Police Officials. We celebrate in this week the passion, death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We wish the priests, religious, the faithful and all the people of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore a very Happy Easter.
May the Risen Lord bless you all with His lasting peace and love. May God bless you.19 March 2008
The members of the Peace Committee met the District Collector, the Superintendent and the Revenue Officials at Tindivanam and reported to them the Archdiocesan policy concerning the problems at Eraiyur. The Collector and the Officials were happy about the decisions and they assured to help us in implementing them.
Meanwhile, some native priests of Eraiyur went to Eraiyur to prepare the minds of the caste people to understand and accept the decisions of the Archdiocese. They met the leaders of the caste group and sought their co-operation in this regard.
The same day, a group of dalit activists had a Mass celebrated unlawfully in the street opposite to the Cathedral and it was followed by a public meeting condemning the Church authorities for the caste discriminations at Eraiyur. In the meeting Fr. Jeyaseelan of Chenglepet Diocese seems to have delivered an inciting and controversial speech.20 March 2008
The dalit Christians at Eraiyur told the priest deputed to celebrate the Paschal Triduum at Sagayamatha chapel that they did not want any celebration in their chapel as decided by the Archbishop and the priests because of heavy rain. Maundy Thursday Mass was celebrated in the Parish church and both groups participated in it.22 March 2008
A dalit woman, the mother of Mr. Mathew of the "Dalit Panthers" political party died of old age and sickness and there arose the need of implementing two of the decisions taken by the Archdiocese, namely 1) the use of the Church street by the dalit Christians for funeral procession and 2) the common funeral car (thoomba). Both of these decisions were implemented with the help of the Revenue Officials and the police. The funeral services were held peacefully on 24 March.27 March 2008
The Archbishop sent a team of priests to Eraiyur to speak to the caste people and prepare them for the meeting to be held on 29 March.29 March 2008
As planned earlier, the team of priests went to Eraiyur to meet the caste group and convince them of the need to accept the changes in the spirit of the Gospel and to seek their co-operation in implementing the decisions taken by the Archbishop and the Archdiocesan Presbyterium. In the meeting, the people came up with their proposals and accepted to form a 15 member committee. The dalit leaders were also asked to form a similar committee to look into their demands and proposals. The representatives of both groups will meet the Archbishop and the priests next week in the Archbishop's House, Pondicherry and settle the issues amicably.
All the people are equal in the Catholic Church. Untouchability and caste discriminations have certainly no place in the Church. However, it should be admitted that though there is no caste discrimination in the Liturgical services, the differences and the inequalities at the social level have not been completely removed.
It is assured that the local Church would take all the necessary steps to eliminate this evil from our Archdiocese. As this is a long standing social evil, there is a need for the co-operation of the local people and the Govt.
For the Archbishop, all the faithful are his children. He is their father and shepherd. He takes all the efforts to meet their needs.
The Catholic Church has a rich tradition and is bound by administrative norms that concern the practice of religion. Nobody can act outside these norms as we know. Even the Archbishop cannot act independently with regard to creating new parishes. He has to strictly adhere to the canonical norms.
As regards the problems at Eraiyur, the Archbishop listened to the representation of the dalit Christian community at Eraiyur with attention and care and asked the Vicar General to study the issue and come up with some recommendations. This process needed some time. When this process was half way through, some miscreants instigated the people to violence. The issues at Eraiyur may be classified under the following categories: a) those that call for the immediate attention and action of the Archbishop; b) those that require a long term solution and c) those that need to be approached with the norms of the Church (Canon Law). Among these, there are issues which concern both parties and they cannot be solved until both come to an agreement and give their full co-operation. Any independent decision by the Archbishop in this regard will only produce counter effects. We need some time to discuss and arrive at an amicable solution acceptable to both sides.
The Archbishop feels the urgent need for establishing equality among all the faithful. But the recent happenings give one the impression that he is targeted beyond any proportion for all the evils the caste system has left in the Indian society and in the church all these years.
First and foremost, peace should be restored at Eraiyur and people should be helped to live as before, as brothers and sisters in unity. The fact is that most of the people on both sides want only peace and those who want to prolong the trouble are only a few who seem to act at the influence of outside forces.
The Church is beyond political ideologies. The faithful may adhere to different political parties of their choice but that should not lead them to politicize the problems of the local church.
As Archbishop, he sees to it that the dalit priests are appointed to important posts in the educational institutions and parishes.
Fr. Jeyaseelan, a priest from Chenglepet diocese celebrated Holy Mass in the Sagayamatha chapel on 9 December 2007, the Dalit Liberation Sunday and administered the sacraments of Baptism and First Holy Communion on his own without the due permission and authorization of the Archbishop. In the following weeks, some religious dalit priests have celebrated Sunday Mass unlawfully at Sagayamatha chapel.
Some Action Groups and political parties seem to politicize the issue for their own benefits.
Implementation of the four points agreed upon at the Priests' meeting held on 18 March 2008.
Arranging for immediate relief measures to the families affected by this untoward incident.
Conducting animation programmes of spiritual, pastoral and social nature so that the people are made to understand and accept the Gospel values, become more and more aware of the importance of human dignity and live in peace, harmony and brotherhood. In concrete terms, we will concentrate on the following programmes.
Formation and strengthening of the Basic Christian Communities
Formation and strengthening of pious associations and
Formation of prayer groups
Imparting on-going Biblical and Catechetical formation
Awareness programmes on the importance of education to the children
Adult education programmes
Forming self-help groups and credit societies
Creating job opportunities
To cater to the needs of this big parish and to carry out all the above programmes, a team of priests (4 or 5) will be appointed at Eraiyur. Besides the involvement of the PMSSS and the SAMSS, the help of the State Govt will be sought in carrying out these programmes.
Jesus has commissioned the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel to all: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The Pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature (A.G. 2). The Church exists in order to evangelize. Evangelization is the vocation proper to the Church (cf. E.N. 14). The Church continues the saving mission of Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel, through the celebration of the sacraments and through various services.
Jesus associated himself in a special way with the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the sinners. He healed every disease and infirmity (Mt 9:35). Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched a leper and cured him ( Mk 1:40-42). He forgave the sins of sinners (cf. Lk 7: 47-50). He loved the unloved; he valued the un-wanted; he cared for the un-cared. He welcomed the un-welcomed; he gave importance to the little ones; he searched for the lost ones.
Following the example of Christ, the Church, in her mission, ministries and services should pay special attention to the poor, the neglected, the marginalized, the un-wanted, the un-loved and the un-cared for. The Church should always “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10).
Love for Jesus, love for the souls and love for the mission brought Sr. Teresa to India. Mother Teresa, as a Loretto nun, was quite exemplary in her life of prayer and commitment to duties. 10th September 1946 will always remain the Day of days in the life of Mother Teresa. On that day she had a great inspiration. The words of Jesus, hanging on the Cross, “I thirst” touched her heart deeply. She felt that these words were addressed to her personally. She felt that Jesus was calling her for a new way of being and a new way of doing. She clearly understood that Jesus is thirsting for Love, for souls, for human persons. In the light of faith and with the strength of prayer, she decided to devote herself entirely to quench the thirst of Jesus by loving and serving the poorest of the poor. Love for Jesus, love for the souls and love for the poor brought Mother Teresa into the streets, into the slums of Calcutta on 21st December 1948.
Mother Teresa visited the poor families, washed the sores of the Children, cared for the old men lying sick on the road and nursed women dying of hunger and disease. She was fully convinced that the biggest disease was not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, deserted by everybody. With the eyes of Christ she looked at the poor; with heart of Christ she loved the unloved; with the hands of Christ she embraced the unwanted. Clad in a simple white sari with a blue border, with a rosary in her hand, Mother Teresa, loving and serving the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, became the living Gospel. She became the living image of the Loving Christ.
It is the love of Christ that pushed (2 Cor 5:14) Mother Teresa into the slums of Calcutta, into the homes of the poor. The Eucharist remained the Centre of her life and service. Daily Mass, Holy Communion and prolonged prayer at the feet of the Eucharistic Lord gave her the necessary inspiration and energy, courage and perseverance for her daily life and services. The life of Mother Teresa was a constant moving from the Lord to the poor and from the poor to the Lord. She carried the Lord Jesus to the hearts of the poor and she brought the poor to the feet of Christ. This is the mission of the Church.
Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity devote themselves to the works of mercy (cf. Mt 25: 31-40). The Holy Father’s intention to have the canonization of Mother Teresa during the Jubilee Year of Mercy is very fitting. St. Teresa of Calcutta, with her shining example and powerful message, remains the “Carrier of God’s Tender and Merciful Love”.
The Church in India should pay special attention to the poor and the marginalized. Christ came into to the world “to preach the Good News to the poor” (Lk 4: 18). The poor are blessed: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20). The mission of the Church towards the poor is fulfilled by the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel is to be proclaimed both by word and deed, by solidarity with the poor and services to the poor.
Poverty in India is one of the most serious challenges which the Church in India has to face. Poverty as a social misery is to be eradicated or at least to be notably reduced. In India there is enough for the need of everyone but not for the greed of any one. It is a fact that the poor in India are neglected and are exploited. The poor remain poor and they become even poorer.
The spiritual needs and the material needs of the poor should be taken care of by us. We should be generous to share with the poor and the needy our material resources. It is high time that we seriously look into our costly constructions and expensive celebrations. By our simple life-style and by introducing moderations in our constructions and celebrations, we should be able to spare enough of money for the education of the poor children, for the marriages of poor women, for building houses for the poor etc. Let us keep in mind that taking care of the needs of the poor is one of the proper objectives of the temporal goods of the Church (cf. Can. 1254.2).
Charities to the poor are not enough; development works for the poor are not enough; the poor need to be empowered. Education and employment are sure means of empowering the poor and the marginalized. What we do for the poor is important. But the way we do for the poor is more important. And who we are to the poor is the most important thing.Following the example of Christ and taking inspiration from the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta, let us love and serve the poor with joy and dedication. May Mary our Mother, help us to be sensitive to the ‘needs of the poor and the marginalized’