Thirty years ago whenever I got opportunity to address the gatherings of priests and religious during the pastoral council meetings of a few dioceses, I had proposed to have a full time person for building public relations and creating good will among people in the locality. At that time hardly any one understood the purpose of this suggestion. When the church personnel started experiencing opposition, harassment and elimination from politicians and fundamentalist groups they felt the need for building public relations. Yet Church did not take this mission seriously. This important job was given to persons who did not have knowledge and experience of dealing with various kinds of persons in the society and government. The persons who were entrusted with this important job were never given any training.
Since last two decades Church institutions are targeted by political leaders, government officials and fundamentalist groups for very silly reasons. Often false charges are made against the priests and religious personnel. Harassment by the Government and attacks by the fringe groups with the support of the ruling party leaders have become order of the day. Every day we hear about attacks on the schools, priests and nuns. Many priests and nuns are not prepared to face such challenging situations. It is very humiliating to see how some petty government servants and local politicians make principals and managers of schools and colleges to run from pillar to post. When the church institutions are attacked often the police stand as passive spectators. The parents whose children study in these schools also remain silent and indifferent when we face opposition and violence. The principals of mighty institutions become nervous and their sugar level and blood pressure shoot up.
In the recent years some dioceses formed a crisis management committee. But this committee met only when a crisis appeared. Instead of waiting for a crisis to happen it is important and wise to take steps to prevent them. Wise people dig a well and store water to be used in emergency instead of going in search of water when fire breaks out. It is embarrassing to see how priests and nuns are forced to pay huge amounts as bribe to various people to settle a crisis. Yet the crisis doesn’t end there; it only continues.
It is a pity that the complacency and self righteousness of clergy and religious do not make them humble to accept their ignorance and inefficiency. Many of them do not make an effort to learn practical tips to prevent crisis situation and solve it when it happens. The people who face maximum crisis and adversity are those who refuse to go for any sort of programmes which deals with capacity building and crisis management. Simple nuns delegate the job of managing crisis to God through long hours of night vigils and noisy prayers.
COMMON CAUSES FOR CRISIS:
It is very important to review our life and work to see the decline of our influence in the society. How did we reach to the stage of opposition, harassment, alienation and elimination from a position of acceptance and recognition? Analysing the causes for the anti-Christian propaganda and attacks is a prerequisite to find solutions and prepare new strategies.
1. Aggressive Colonial Missionary Legacy:
After the Apostolic times and early Christian period the missionary work was carried out with the patronage of kings and emperors. The expansion of the Christianity was connected with the colonial expansion of the powerful countries of Europe. The missionaries who accompanied the military as chaplains engaged in the missionary work with the patronage of colonial government. The missionaries established educational institutions and other welfare activities and followed the colonial style of the Church as existed in Europe, imposing the same culture and practices wherever they went to establish the Church. Establishing the institutional church was given more importance than teaching the way of Christ as a spiritual movement of universal values. The majority Hindu population tolerated all these colonial missionary aggression because of the universal family spirit of Hinduism and educational, medical and other humanitarian services the missionaries provided to people. There were Hindu Kings even constructed churches for Christians.
Obsessed with the dogma of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ, belief of no salvation outside the Church and other dogmas the missionaries were aggressive and self-righteous in their attitude and approach to other religions that they considered ‘pagan’. Taking all students of the other faiths to the church to recite the Christian prayers, imposing the logo with cross on the school uniform, erecting statues of Christian saints in the school campus, making every one to say Church prayers, distribution of Bible to people of other faith, writing Bible quotes on the walls and many such practices without bothering about the sentiments of the majority who were not Christians were part of evangelisation.
In these days, despite having a pro-Hindu government at the centre and facing frequent opposition from Hindu fundamentalist groups, many priests and religious do not feel the need to review their ways of running their institutions. Some fundamentalist retreat preachers and theologians who are not aware of the fast changing socio-political context and threats at hand promote the colonial era missionary style. These preachers and teachers do not work in the spots where the simple nuns and priests face trouble. From the security of their retreat centres and theological institutes in the cities, some of them still speak, “Blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” Even those who face opposition and threats do not feel the need to review their way of life. Many of them refuse “to go to the other side” and explore better alternatives when they are invited by the experienced people who care for them.
2. Routine Transfers of Principals of Educational Institutions and Directors of Social Work Projects:
Clergy, religious and bishops are possessed by the demon of routine. Following the routine has become the law. Routine prayers, routine celebrations, routine meetings, routine retreats and routine works condition and control the life of persons and institutions. Often these routine practices are unproductive and outdated. Hardly any effort is done to review their impact on the lives of persons. Instead, more and more rituals, practices and rules are introduced.
One of the unproductive routine rules is the transfer of clergy and religious who are holding responsible positions of public interest. These routine transfers affect the mission of an institution adversely especially when the church is facing hostile forces. In the past frequent transfer of personnel did not affect the working of the institution much because people’s attachment was to the institution. Now when the Church is facing negative propaganda and opposition there is greater need for better relationship with people, political leaders and government officials. Transfer of the principal and director of a hospital or social project disconnect people. Trust of people is gained after a long time presence with hard work and relationship. It takes years to build confidence of people, especially people of other faiths. Frequent transfers disconnect the relationship. Trust and relationship are not transferable. The new person will take many years to build trust and relationship again. In the changing socio-political scenario with hostile forces are at work against us it is not easy to build good will and trust.
I had been speaking in every meeting about this serious matter. I had also written several articles on this one point policy as the best way to meet the challenges the church institutions face. Always there will be hundreds of objections to this practical solution to prevent crisis. The objections are the following: ‘If one person stays in one place for long he/she will be uncontrollable’; ‘he/she will be attached to the place and people’; ‘all should get an opportunity to hold positions’; ‘ he /she is long time there’.
These arguments are made by those who do not have clarity of vision and mission in the context where the Church is facing opposition and false propaganda. Only sustained relationship with the general public, leaders of the society and government officials can prevent crisis and solve problems before they intensify.
Before entrusting anyone the responsibility of leading an educational institution or social work centre he/she should be given proper orientation and training in leadership to equip the person to meet any situation. Merit should be the only criterion of selecting people to head the institutions.
Regarding the fear of one becoming uncontrollable when he/she stays in a place longer can be easily avoided if professional system of evaluation, team work, accountability, transparency, teamwork is introduced. If job descriptions of various persons and departments are clearly given to all in the management team no conflicts will arise. Above all, members in the community and staff should be aware of the vision and mission of the institution and make sure that everyone adheres to those.
When the institutions and communities do not work with a clear vision and definite goals the principals and directors work as per their whims and fancies. In such situations transfer after a fixed term is the only solution. This system damages the mission of the institution. The reason for the repeated troubles the schools and other institutions face despite the dedicated service we give to the society is due to the present transfer system which disconnects all relations and good will by the arrival of a new person.
Political leaders and leaders of fundamentalist groups nurture their constituency by their life long presence and contacts with the people. They win the confidence of people despite several corruption cases against them. People trust them because of their continued presence and relationship with them. Priests and religious fail to sustain the relationship and they experience rejection and alienation.
If a person does not follow the system of evaluation, team work, transparency and accountability he/she should go. Similarly if a person is creating public scandal she/he should be shifted without delay.
3. Lack of Effective Public Relations and Cordial Behaviour:
Religious and priestly formation in the past discouraged all kinds of relationships. Contacts and relationship even with family members were discouraged. According to the old understanding world was full of sin and therefore it should be avoided. The old mentality of many traditional religious has not changed even after Second Vatican council. It is very sad to see the trend of going back to the old system. The women religious who had abandoned the traditional western habit and adopted secular attire to be like “salt” of the society is going back to the old traditional colonial style. Many congregations are encouraging their members to wear the traditional religious habit of the colonial era. Some preachers and bishops motivate them to do so in the name of witnessing Christianity. Exhibitionism is not witnessing. Christ had condemned all kinds of exhibitionism. Instead of following the legacy of Christ who criticized the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders for their exhibitionism many priests are eager to keep up the Jewish legacy. Very few of them realize that the anti-Christian groups identify these practices as colonial legacy. They are ignorant of the cases of attacks on nuns only because of their colonial identity. Hindu fundamentalists are aware of the history of the atrocities committed by the foreign missionaries with the support of the colonial government.
As Jesus said to His disciples to “be innocent as doves and cunning as serpents” it is time for the church personnel to abandon the aggressive exhibitionism and adopt more methods to be integrated to the mainstream of the society as “SALT and LIGHT”.
Today the Christians, especially, priests and religious giving dedicated service to the society are misunderstood than understood. We have failed to communicate our mission clearly. Every good service is misunderstood as a tactic to convert Hindus in to Christianity. Very little effort is done from the part of the Church to remove this false impression of a majority of people. Though the Church is not engaged in such proselytization in the regions where there is resistance the missionaries are eager to convert in those regions where there is no opposition to their work.
During the formation and there after very little effort is made to educate and equip the priests and religious with knowledge and skills of public relations. Their Ignorance of socio-political and cultural context do not give them confidence to come into public programmes and interact with people of other faith and walks of life. Only a very small percentage of the clergy and religious read newspapers and secular magazines. Even those who read the newspaper are not keen to read any serious articles on current issues. Majority of them do not know protocol and designations of government officials. A large number of priests and nuns do not know general information about the city/town/village in which they live and work.
Those who are heads of educational institutions often exhibit immature and impulsive behaviour to people who come to their office. They lack cordiality and respect in their dealings with people. This not only gives bad image of the institution and those who run it but also create hostility. A large majority of the cases where the church institutions faced trouble was due to the bad behaviour and statements by priests and nuns. They do not realize the fact that the colonial era is over and now we have a government dominated by anti-Christian forces that wait for a chance to target us.
It is high time to give serious training to all clergy, religious especially those who hold leadership training. It is to be mentioned that no principal, bishop or provincial responded when a three-day training programme in public relations and crisis management was announced a few years ago, when the Church schools were repeatedly targeted by anti-Church groups. None of them felt the need for such training. Each time when they face trouble they solve it by paying large sums of money to various people. This only makes them weak and encourages the corrupt officials and local politicians to exploit them further. Those who run the schools do not have the courage and competence to involve the parents of their students in the crisis and problems they face.
Building effective public relations with all sections of people and learning to behave with respect and patience can prevent many crises and solve them when they occur. Principals, managers and heads of institutions must be humble to update themselves through training, exposure and personal study.
4. Ignorance and Alienation from the Context:
Ignorance about socio-political context and the changes which are happening in the world make most of the religious and priests keep away from public meetings. Many principals who live and work in a city, town or village do not know the general information of the city, town or village and people such as population, major political parties and their leaders, government departments and the names of the officials, voluntary associations who do various welfare activities. A large majority of clergy and religious do not know much about the organisations such as Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), Sangh Parivar and many such groups who have strategic plans against the Christians and Muslims.
Actions and statements of the clergy and religious because of their ignorance about the cultural and religious customs of the local people land them in trouble. Appointing priests and nuns as principals who are not fluent in local language also create problem for the institutions. Such people cannot build relationship with the parents and local population. In many schools principals address the parents in English which they do not understand. Principal of a school/college shall play role of a leader in the society and win their confidence. They should be available for any social programmes in the city when invited. They shall also be always ready to deliver a speech if request is made without prior notice in such gatherings. Knowledge about socio-political and religious issues is very important to interact with people on such occasions. We should be familiar with the customs and traditions of people to make ourselves confident in such gatherings.
5. Internal Conflicts and Lack of Collective Vision:
In His farewell speech during the last supper Jesus expressed His two major concerns. One was about the way of life and the rule which should guide his followers. He summarized all the laws into one: “Love one another as I have loved you”. He wanted “love one another” as the identity of His disciples. The second concern, the prayer of Jesus was for the unity of His disciples. in the later years His followers have betrayed Jesus and rejected both His concerns. Internal conflicts and divisions have defeated the sacred mission of Christ. Today, His followers are indulging in all kinds of corruption, violence, scandal and court cases. Yet all of them run their business in His name. The internal conflicts and divisions have damaged the image of the Church and weakened it very badly. It is a pity that neither the leaders of the Church nor those who are facing trouble from hostile forces are willing to change their attitudes and methods. They continue their Ostrich style with complacency for suicide and self-destruction.
(to be continued)
(Published on 12th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 33)