Luca Fiore of Oasis magazine wrote an article on the Christians in Kerala titled, The Amazing Secrets of Kerala. I will briefly summarize this article presented by the eloquent Sandro Magister of Chiesa.
Legend has it that Saint Thomas the Apostle arrived and preached in Mylapore, India, not far from Madras, where he suffered martyrdom and where his tomb is kept today. Prior to his martyrdom Saint Thomas arrived in Kerala at about A.D. 52. The Christians in south west India called Thomas Christians due to the missionary efforts of Saint Thomas.
The Christians in Kerala are of the Syro-Malabar Rite within Catholicism and they constitute up to 20% of the population, where in the rest of India Christians are just a bit over 2%. Kerala is a pluralistic society where the majority of residents are Hindu, Muslims make up 25%, and Christians 20%. All the faiths live in peaceful harmony which is unlike some parts of India.
The state of Kerala is somewhat of an anomaly in India. With relative peace among the different faiths, Kerala also has the highest literacy rates in the country, over 90% compared to roughly 65% to the rest of India. Another exception is that Kerala is also the only government with Marxists in control. This coming from a state where the majority of the schools, from elementary to university levels, are predominantly Christian.
Conversions are not common, but when they occur, there is normally no violent reaction whether they convert to Christianity from Hinduism or Islam, though Pentecostals are the most militant and cause the most disturbance among the residents of all faiths. There are many reasons for conversion to Christianity, some convert because of the communal aspects of worship which is lacking in some Hindu strains. Other convert due to the love the converts witness that is carried out among Christians. But there is no definitive evidence of the major reasons behind conversions.
Kerala does suffer violence amongst the faiths, though the majority are between Hindus and Muslims, and overall, no one has died from any religious violence. The violence that does exist towards Christians come from the many conversions of the untouchable caste of Hindus which has provoked some resentment. This resentment is primarily from militant Hindus such as the notorious BJP party of India and their military branch, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. As for the Muslims, they remain the exception to the Muslims in the rest of India. They speak a mixed Kerala dialect and Arabic, wherein the rest of India’s Muslims mostly speak Urdu. So they are cocooned from the fanatacism that infests the rest of India’s Muslims.
Education seems to be the common denominator that keeps the religious fanaticism to an absolute minimum. Most of this can be attributed to the Catholic Church. Even prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, Kerala already carried a rich educational tradition that started from the first converts learning Syriac, which eventually blossomed to the establishment of schools and an expanded on other subjects.
Religious vocations are flourishing, unlike the rest of the industrialized world, to the point that I can personally know two priests of the Syro-Malabar Rite that are in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (probably more if I bothered to do any research). The reasons given are not necessarily the learning of secular subjects at school, but mainly due to the education received at home! Especially to devout Christian families.
“there are still many families who are deeply devoted to religion and have a profound respect for the vocation to priesthood. As a result they do not try to stop their children from undertaking this path a priori. It must be said however that even here the numbers are slowly diminishing”.
Large vocations help staff hospitals and schools as well as provide parish priests. Unlike here in the United States where Catholic schools are closing down because of the expense of having to hire lay staff members instead of providing a teaching vocation to nuns, brothers, and priests.
Keep note that all of the schools and hospitals are open to Hindus and Muslims. And because of the commitment to social justice causes that the Catholic Church provides, orphanages, rest homes, and publications are kept fully staffed for the general public.
To read the complete story that this posting is based on by Luca Fiore of Oasis magazine click here.