St John Paul ll once said, "The worst prison would be a closed heart".
Many celebrated Christian catholic preachers of Kerala are in this prison when it comes to secularism, queer relationships, gender equality and to an extent, attitudes towards moral policing.
As a catholic Christian, I remember my convent school principal teaching us that it's rare for boys and girls to have a healthy friendship. I was also advised not to become a TV journalist because women on TV are "bad".
I remember the parish priest who punished me with confinement because he heard me calling my father 'Achan'. He claimed that this was a word that Hindus used. He shouted at me saying Christian children should only call their fathers 'Appa', 'Appacha' or 'Daddy'. As a 10-year-old, I believed him and tried to change my vocabulary but failed.
Two decades later, I realise that this is the prison that John Paul ll was talking about. Nothing has changed; in fact, things have become worse. Father Joseph Puthenpurackal, who's celebrated for his 'humorous' speeches and has been the chief guest in many popular TV comedy programmes, recently made an outrageous hate speech.
"Tipu Sultan came to Malabar. He and his soldiers killed Christians, wiped out Hindus. Hindus and Christians were forcefully converted to Islam. Malabar Muslims were Hindus and Christians who were forcefully converted 515 years ago," said this celebrated Christian preacher.
It's ironic that a priest from the Catholic faith, who belongs to a religion that was brought to Kerala by St Thomas, is talking about "forceful conversions". While our textbooks and storybooks once celebrated Tipu as a brave king who fought the British, he's become the target of right wing campaigns to portray him as a religious fanatic for the excesses said to be committed in his rule.
Fr Puthenpurackal went on to make more absurd claims. He asserted that implementing the CAA is wrong but then made statements reeking of Islamophobia. "But we should understand that Muslims are not saints. We could stay in Mumbai only with the help of the Shiv Sena. Otherwise, the Muslims would have killed us with guns. In Saudi Arabia, there's a road in Mecca where only Muslims can travel. Others cannot drive there," he said.
With his declaration about Christians owing their existence in Mumbai to the Shiv Sena, Fr Puthenpurackal may well emerge as a close rival to Hindu Aikya Vedi leader KP Sasikala when it comes to Islamophobia.
Continuing his tirade against Muslims, the Father said, "Muslims kill us the most, not Hindus. So, we should consider that while thinking about the CAA." He then went on to pursue his "historical" reasoning about Tipu: "Tipu's soldiers crossed Aluva. They reached Alangod and after that, they could not move forward because a mango tree blocked their way. That place came to be known as Koonammavu (bent mango tree)."
Claiming that there was snowfall on Cherai beach when Tipu arrived, he said, "When he was moving forward (in the territory), another war broke out and he was called back. If he hadn't gone back, he would have come to Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, Ranni, Adoor...and all your names would have been Fathima, Sulekha Basheer, Musthafa.
Fr Puthenpurackal isn't the only Christian leader to have such views in Kerala. A representative of the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council wrote an article in support of the CAA in the BJP mouthpiece Janmabhumi and another read out a circular that asserts the existence of "love jihad" in the state (which is supposedly the biggest threat that Kerala catholics now face). The Syro Malabar Church has also declared its affinity towards the right wing.
It's true that India is a democratic country and anybody can hold any political view. However, one must not forget that this is a country which also allows people to follow any religion with equal rights. This right, which is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, is the reason why Christianity was allowed to spread in the country.
Fr Puthenpurackal has subsequently apologised for his speech. Perhaps it's because he's a catholic priest, he seems to believe a confession can wipe away all the poison that he's spread. In the apology, he claimed that he did not mean 'good-hearted' Muslims and that he was only referring to those who killed Christians. He also apologised for getting the year of Tipu's arrival in Kerala wrong. But why mention terrorists while discussing the CAA? And why use 'Muslims' instead of 'terrorists' if that's who he meant? Surely, he must know that the two terms are not synonymous!
Fr Puthenpurackal holds problematic and regressive views about women too. In his speeches, he's said, "A perfect woman is the one who gets up early in the morning, keeps the house clean and does all other household work."
Other gems like "Nowadays women go to beauty parlours for pedicure, hair removal, shape their eyebrows etc... but still some of them will look like a ghost in a dark mortuary" were met with applause over the "humour" and not called out like they should have been. The mix of misogyny and orthodox views was appealing to most, and he's now added communal hatred to it.
Speaking about ignorance, Fr Dominic Valamnal, another celebrated catholic priest, once called autistic kids 'animals'. He also claimed that parents who indulge in alcohol, cigarette, beedi, narcotics, paan, adultery, masturbation, homosexuality, porn are the reason for autism in children. Later, he, too, apologised.
Pope Francis said, "We, religious leaders, are called to be â€śdialoguers,â€ť to act in the making of peace not as intermediaries, but as genuine mediators.
Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, uniting and not dividing, extinguishing hatred and not harboring it, opening the ways of dialogue and not raising new walls! "
He has also said "No one should be afraid that God has allowed there to be different religions in the world. But we should be frightened if we are not doing the work of fraternity, of walking together in life as brothers and sisters of one human family," he said.
If we're to pay heed to his words, yes, we should be frightened, extremely frightened.
The views expressed are the author's own.