Thursday, June 17, 2004

Outsourcing prayers

Not a joke. It has come to this: due to a shortage of US Roman Catholic clergy, the Church is outsourcing prayers to India.
In Kerala's churches, memorial and thanksgiving prayers conducted for local residents are said for a donation of 40 rupees (90 cents), whereas a prayer request from the United States typically comes with $5, the Indian priests say.

Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, the auxiliary bishop of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese in Cochin, a port town in Kerala, said his diocese received an average of 350 Mass intentions a month from overseas. Most were passed to needy priests.

In Kerala, where priests earn $45 a month, the money is a welcome supplement, Bishop Adayanthrath said.

But critics of the phenomenon said they were shocked that religious services were being sent offshore, or outsourced, a word normally used for clerical and other office jobs that migrate to countries with lower wages.

In London, Amicus, the labor union that represents 1.2 million British workers, called on the government and workers to treat outsourcing as a serious issue.

In a news release, David Fleming, national secretary for finance of Amicus said the assignment of prayers "shows that no aspect of life in the West is sacred.''

"The very fabric of the nation is changing,'' he said. "We need to have a long, hard think about what the future is going to look like."

However, congregations in Kerala say the practice of ordering prayers is several decades old. "The church is not a business enterprise, and it is sad and pathetic to connect this practice to outsourcing software work to cheaper labor destinations,'' said the Rev. Vincent Kundukulam of St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Aluva, near Cochin. In Bangalore's Dharmaram College, Rector James Narithookil said he often received requests for Mass intentions from abroad, which he distributed among the 50 priests in his seminary. Most of the requests from the United States were for requiems, with donations of $5 to $ 10, he said. Bishop Adayanthrath said sending Mass intentions overseas was a way for rich churches short on priests to share and support smaller churches in poorer parts of the world.

The Rev. Paul Thelakkat, a Cochin-based spokesman for the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, said, "The prayer is heartfelt, and every prayer is treated as the same whether it is paid for in dollars, euros or in rupees."