In a not so new attempt at Christianising Sanatani practices and customs, the Jesuits have converted a Lingayat matha in Belagavi, Karnataka. This duplicitous act came to light when Savio Rodrigues, a Goa based independent journalist, tweeted the photo of the Bishop of Belagavi diocese wearing saffron robes with Tilak on his forehead and sporting Rudraksha mala.
Savio wanted to know whether the Catholic Church has changed the colour of its robes to saffron all over, or are they doing it to fool the innocent Hindus for conversion?
I am curious @Pontifex has the Catholic Church changed its cassock to Saffron in India and donned the Tilak along with Rudraksh sacred to Sanatan Dharma. Or is this the ploy of the Church to lure innocent Hindus who relate to the Saffron attire, tilak and rudraksh as religious. pic.twitter.com/wpozjijSop
— Savio Rodrigues ?? (@PrinceArihan) September 10, 2019
I wonder is any national TV channel will debate the #SaffronChurch. They even celebrate Holy Mass in Saffron but don't wear the Tilak and Rudraksh here. @Pontifex @TimesNow @republic pic.twitter.com/ZdDG3VxMrY
— Savio Rodrigues ?? (@PrinceArihan) September 10, 2019
After the tweet went viral and some media covered it, the church has begun to take cover behind promoting ‘religious harmony’. The matha has the Shiva lingam and sayings of Basava and Purandara Dasa adorn the walls of the matha. It is built in Banarasi Nagara style architecture. The appearance of the stone building looks obviously like that of a Hindu place of worship.
It was taken over by Christians when one Armado Alvares, a Jesuit priest from Goa arrived at Deshnur a few months after independence in 1948. Like the first ever ‘Christian Brahmin’ Roberto De Nobili, he named himself Sri Animananda Swamy, meaning ‘The Blessing of the Spirit’ and became a ‘sanyasi’ in 1947.
The Time wrote in 1973 –
“The 70-year-old Animananda travels by bullock cart to five small villages talking about religion with clusters of interested listeners in Hindu temples. Because the villagers are monotheists, Lingayat Hindus who worship the God Shiva, Animananda preaches “less about Christ and more about God the Father”.’
Another excerpt from the same article says
“Not so much as missionaries but as citizen Christians, they (Jesuits) are making a mark on a major culture of the East−that of India. “If India is today in some degree Christian, it is because of the Jesuits,” says Father Theo Mathias, Society of Jesus, head of the Roman Catholic education organization in India. The 3,100 Jesuits in India constitute the third largest national contingent in the society after the U.S. and Spain”.
They say that the tabernacle (a fixed, locked box in which, in some Christian churches, the Eucharist is “reserved” (stored); Eucharist – a sacrament celebrated as “the source and summit” of the Christian life, also used for the bread and wine when transubstantiated (their substance having been changed), according to Catholic teaching, into the body and blood of Jesus Christ) is in the form of Shiva lingam.
The pictures of unidentified persons wearing ochre robes and cross are kept on the walls surrounding the lingam. Five Jesuit priests have served in the place since it has been converted as a church and all of them wore saffron robes, Rudraksha mala, adopted Hindu names and became vegetarians.
“We are following a very stringent lifestyle. During our prayers and Mass, we adapt to local rites and rituals which includes wearing of saffron cassock and taking up the pure vegetarian food”, said the current Jesuit priest Menino Gonsalves who calls himself as Sri Menino Swamy.
“He performs pooja with aarathi during mass, and claims to be an Ayurvedic healer”, The Hindu reported. The people call the convent as padri mutt and the temple/matha as ‘church gudi’ (gudi means temple in Kannada). In a bizarre manner they burn camphor and incense and offer flowers to the lingam and the idols of Mary and Jesus while worshipping.
In 1976, Jesuit priest Felix Antony Mathias who called himself Swami Amalananda (true disciple of St John Baptist) is said to have built a church in the matha complex and dedicated it to St John the Baptist.
Chairman of Deshnur village, Deepak Patil is reported to have said, “Religious heads belonging to different sects and religions have always maintained harmonious relations with the mutt and its priests”. He seems to be one of the beneficiaries of the missionary largesse as he expressed his indebtedness to the priests saying whatever he is today is possible because the priests made him literate and taught him the values of life ‘without imposing their faith on him’ as reported in The Goan.
On the controversy of a Belagavi bishop wearing saffron robes and Rudraksha mala with cross, the vicar general of Belagavi diocese said, “The said church was called as Virakta Matha earlier. Jesuit priests went to this church for the first time more than 40 years ago and took on the Indian customs like wearing saffron robes. The tabernacle of the church is in the form of Shiva Linga,” TOI reported.
“The photographs appear to be of a ceremony that includes inculturation, which the Catholic Church advises in liturgy, attire and so on. It is the assimilation of local culture,” Metropolitan Archbishop of Goa & Daman and Patriarch of the East Indies Filipe Neri Ferrão said as reported by TOI.
Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops Council claimed that the Jesuit priests don’t have any motive to convert Hindus but to ‘adapt and promote’ local culture and traditions. Menino Gonsalves claimed that none of the inhabitants, 12,000 people as per him, of the village are Christians despite the mission being present there for more than 70 years.
However, the Society of Jesus’s twitter handle proudly tweeted that though fewer than 20 are Catholics out of the several hundred residents, everyone came together to celebrate in a single temple (Virakta matha) with a single ‘Swami’ (Menino Gonsalves).
Of the several hundred residents of Deshnur (India) fewer than 20 are Catholic. But in an amazing show of dialogue between "people of good will", Catholics, Hindus and Muslims alike celebrate their shared spirituality in a single temple, and with a single Swami. pic.twitter.com/XpzvXKjIzg
— Society of Jesus (@TheJesuits) March 5, 2019
An excerpt from the book ‘Jesus as Guru : The Image Of Christ Among Hindus and Christians in India’ talks about the Deshnur church disguised as a Hindu matha –
“The purpose of the Ashram is to engage in pastoral care and to preach the Gospel in the surrounding villages. At the moment there are four Swamis working there. They seldom step into the limelight and do not publish any books or articles about their work. But more than any other Ashram Sadhu they have been accepted in the Hindu society. The Goa Jesuit Swamis continue the long tradition of the Jesuits that began with Robert De Nobili and João de Britto. A far reaching adaptation to the surrounding culture in the service of preaching the Gospel. The witness of Christ is not spectacular, but it is effective.”
The author of the book Jan Peter Schouten visited the church/matha in 1989 and says, “there are inscriptions with texts (Hindu and Christian) and the tabernacle has unmistakably been given the form of a linga” which contradicts the understanding that the matha was originally of Hindu origin and later occupied by the Jesuits.
As no one has so far claimed that the original matha was built by the first Jesuit on mission to Deshnur, Armando Alvares, the author probably tried to misinform the gullible by trying to imply that it was the Jesuits who built the original structure as well.
While the local pastors, spokesperson of the bishops council, vicar and many others deny the purpose of this peculiar structure and behaviour is for conversion through deception, the Goa Jesuits webpage says that Antony Mathias who built the church in the matha complex was an ‘evangelist’ i.e. a person who seeks to convert others to the Christian faith, especially by public preaching. It also says ‘He went around and lived in the villages among the old converts trying to help them in their problems‘ which repudiates the claim that the Jesuits had no proselytizing mission in the village.
The website further says about Armando Alvares,
‘He went visiting and re-starting the old missions in Santibastwad, Balekundri and others that had been abandoned. While he had considerable success among the Harijans of those villages, the Lingayats objected and blocked his arrival in them, particularly on account of his “foreign” manner of worship and way of life.
Swamiji soon realized that the Christianity he preached had the appearance of something foreign, particularly to the masses in the villages and that for Christ’s message to be acceptable it would have to be presented in terms meaningful to the culture in which they grew and lived. Accordingly, he donned the saffron garb of the sanyasi, covered his head with a turban, and wore wooden sandals.’
It further says that when he entered Deshnur in the appearance of a Sanyasi he was welcomed respectfully and allowed to stay in the local matha till the guru of that matha returned.
He started his own matha outside the village and established primary schools for he was ‘firmly convinced that children could prove to be effective apostles to reach out to parents and elders. He dreamed about bringing together Lingayats, Lamanis and Harijans into a great community of faith’. He established two other such ‘mathas’ in Torangatti and Madwal of Belgaum district.
Inculturation or Cultural Appropriation – subterfuge for conversion agenda
Roberto De Nobili, who is admired as the patron saint of inculturation i.e. adaptation of Christian liturgy to a non-Christian cultural background, built a place that looked like a temple and called it ‘kovil’ – the Tamil word for temple.
He called the Catholic mass as ‘pujai’ and the fruits and sweets given out at the end of mass as ‘prasadam’. He gave the converts the names of Christian saints translated into Tamil. He kept a tuft at the back of his head like Brahmins, wore sandal paste and janeu.
He wrote in his letter to the pope, “On all sides”, he wrote, “spread before our eyes fields with ripening harvest, and there is not one to reap them, no one to bring help to these populations, sunk in profound ignorance“.
When his methods to bring new converts were objected to and an inquiry was set up, he said that Hindu forms like sacred thread, kudumi, sandal paste and ochre robe had nothing ‘idolatrous’ about them and could be detached from Hindu religion in order to destroy that religion. The motive behind the behaviour of Catholic priests masquerading as swamis is thus explained.
It’s not a one off incident but continuous process of confusing Hindus, detaching them from their ancestral practices, discrediting Sanatani values to make them ashamed of their lifestyle and eventually give up the beliefs and traditions that constitutes the main part of Sanatana Dharma.
If the so-called swamis are only adapting to the local culture, then why shouldn’t every catholic priest do so? Do they accept that those who don’t adapt to local traditions are following an alien faith? Who or what really are they worshipping if those who abhor the ‘idolators’ (demeaning term used for murti-pujak Hindus) and aim to bring them to the ‘light’ by introducing them to Jesus, have a lingam in their place of worship? If the goal is to respect indigenous cultures & religion, then why such contempt for those very natives in the thoughts & doctrines of the revered founders & icons of religious orders like Jesuits?
While certain Hindus might laugh at such attempts calling them antics, Abrahamic supremacists might one day become successful at alienating our Devatas and Devis from us. Recent narrative in TN that ancient Tamils were ‘non-idolators’ and their gods were different from Hindu gods is only a precursor to what is to come.
From Teresa to the pastor at Virakta math, all use the same phrase “Jesus Christ wants us all to be better human beings. We want Hindus to be better Hindus, Muslims to be better Muslims and Christians to be better Christians.”
But who is a better Hindu? One who doesn’t doubt the motives of the soul harvesters, get deluded by their ‘selfless’ contributions to society, and turn their backs on their fellow Hindus and ancestors, believing theories spread by the missionaries?
Catholic Ashrams: Sanyasins or Swindlers? By Sita Ram Goel
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.