Dipping numbers of nuns, priests prompts debate in community

January 21st, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) The lure of attractive jobs and the increasing attacks on Christians are just some of the reasons youngsters are moving away from a career in the church, impacting on the more than 30,000 educational institutions and 6,000 hospitals being run by the Catholic church.There has been an almost 30-40 percent decline in the number of girls opting to be nuns, said Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) spokesperson Rev. Babu Joseph.

The Catholic church runs more than 30,000 educational institutions in the country as well as 6,000 hospitals and hundreds of charitable organisations - all manned by nuns and priests.

“The decline in the number of young Catholics joining the religious way of life is certainly alarming, and it will affect the sustainability of the Catholic institutions managed by priests and nuns,” Joseph told IANS.

The attraction of other professions, the desire to begin a family and not wanting to go in for a religious vocation are among the reasons coming in the way of young people taking to nunhood or priesthood, say church officials. Catholic girls, for instance, especially in Kerala, are taking to the nursing profession in a major way.

Another factor keeping them away are the attacks on Christians as witnessed in Orissa last year.

“Globally too there has been steady decline in the religious vocation of nunhood and religious life. It has affected the Indian Catholic community. Incidents like what happened in Orissa and Catholic families getting smaller have also adversely affected the numbers opting for nunhood and priesthood,” said Joseph.

“This is a matter of concern in the larger interests of not only the Christian community but also others,” said Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), a grouping of top Catholic officials including major superiors of different congregations (different churches).

“Nowadays people are opting for high-profile jobs and they do not have much interest in joining religious institutions,” he said.

A majority of the people joining as nuns and priests come from Kerala.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) is planning to conduct a study of nuns and priests.

Father Stephen Alathara, spokesperson of the KCBC, said: “So far, no study has been done on this. Currently, there are more than 45,000 nuns and 13,000 priests in the Catholic church.”

In Kerala, which has a population of 32 million, Christians constitute 24 percent. Of this, Catholics account for 18 percent. The total Christian population in India is around 24 million.

Sister Valsa Kurian, regional superior, India of the Dominican Sisters, Mission for School, a congregation which has its headquarters in Rome, admitted that fewer young people were joining the religious calling.

“One reason could be that there has been a sea change in the family profile of Christians in Kerala. Look, I come from a family of 15 children. But see the family size today - it comprises no more than two children. So, this could be one reason,” pointed out Valsa Kurian, who has just returned to Kerala after a 25-year gap after serving across the country and abroad.

Joseph Pulikunnel, known Catholic reformist and editor of Hosana, a Christian publication, has challenged the church to come out with figures on the number of nuns.

“The figures that they are quoting are fudged and meant to impress Rome. Earlier there were more people because economic instability in large families and, to a certain extent, failed marriages of the elder sisters saw young girls arriving at convents to enter the profession of nuns,” said Pulikunnel, who has been having a running feud with the church for a few decades.

“Now there are other options for these girls and many are attracted to the career of nursing. Just look at the number of nursing colleges that have sprouted in the last one decade,” he said.

“Moreover, the age of entry to be a nun then was after Class 10, and today it has gone up and hence these grownup girls are not keen,” added Pulikunnel.

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