Caught in a row between two factions of a church, a 94-year-old Kerala Christian, who died 10 days ago, was finally laid to rest on November 13, amid heavy police protection.
The burial of Varghese Mathew, who died on November 3, was delayed following a stand-off between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions of the Malankara church over the ownership of a church at Kattachira in Alapuzha district of Kerala. Mr Mathew's body had been kept in a mobile mortuary at his house since November 3.
The funeral was delayed after the Orthodox faction refused to allow Mr Mathew's family to conduct the last rites at the St Mary's Church. However, the funeral was conducted after a delay of 10 days under heavy security and the last rites were led by his grandson, Georgy John, a priest.
On November 12, the National Human Rights Commission had asked the Kerala government to conduct the burial with all religious rites. The NHRC order pointed out that the state DGP should provide full protection to the family during the funeral. Following this, Alappuzha district collector S Suhas called for a meeting with each faction and issued a final warning telling them to bury the body before the evening of November 13, or else the district administration will conduct the burial. The Orthodox Church authorities finally allowed the burial to be conducted.
As per the direction from District Collector, the police deployed a team of over 200 police officers in front of the church and cemetery to avoid law and order situations. The funeral rituals were completed at 8 am.
"As per the NHRC order, we completed the burial of the Jacobite church member peacefully and successfully at Kattachira church. Five Jacobite clergy and 50 family members participated in the burial. It is a big victory of our church," Former Jacobite church managing committee member Fr Sleeba Paul Vattavelil Cor-Episcopa told.
Fr Georgy John told this correspondent, "The Orthodox faction's direction that they will not allow me inside the cemetery in my cassock really hurt me as a priest. Finally, with the intervention of the NHRC, I could lead the last rituals of my grandfather as per his last wish."
However, the Orthodox Church is evidently unhappy with the government's decision to allow cremation with the leadership of the Jacobite priests.
"The district administration and the police forcefully allowed the Jacobite factions to conduct the burial inside the Orthodox church. We strongly oppose the government decision. We will inform the state government about our dissatisfaction over the issue. Allowing Jacobite priests inside the cemetery is a clear violation of the Supreme Court verdict," said Fr Johns Abraham Konattu, the PRO of Malankara Orthodox Church.
He added that the allegations against the Malankara Orthodox church over the delay of the burial of the Jacobite faction's believers are baseless and is done with the vested interest to tarnish the image of Malankara Orthodox church. “I clearly say that the Orthodox Church didn't have any plan to block the funeral of the deceased. As per the Supreme Court verdict, we have only the ownership to the Church and we said that our priests would perform the rituals of the funeral. We were ready to conduct the burial accompanied by the Jacobite priests. But they raised their vested interests and created problems," says Fr Konattu. "If they had justice in their part why did they approach the Court for a favourable order to conduct the burial? It shows that the Jacobite faction knows that they have no ownership in the Churches," says Fr Konattu.
Fr Varghese Kallappara, a senior priest and former Chief spokesperson of the Jacobite church, says "The Christian Churches following the teachings of Jesus Christ have forgotten Him and function against the Christian values. It is a reality that there is no presence of Christ in these Christian churches. To deny the burial of a 94 year old is an unethical, uncharitable act and we can’t accept it in any manner.
“It is a tragedy that warring factions in the church give more importance to money and power," added the priest.
However the there is no end to the Church spat. The Orthodox faction decided to raise their dissatisfaction before the government approval of the funeral in Kattachira Church. The decision shows that the church spat will continue in future and same scenes would be repeated in future.(Published on 19th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 47)