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PANAJI, Goa (ChurchMilitant.com) - After a priest's sermon rebuking Catholics for venerating Hindu gods and patronizing witchcraft went viral on social media, the cardinal-archbishop of Goa in India is directing priests and faithful to promote other religions.
Responding to Cdl. Filipe Neri Ferrão's directive, Salesian nuns running the Auxilium School in Mapusa venerated the idol of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha "with a traditional lamp lighting followed by a prayer service to invoke the blessings of Lord Ganesha."
"According to the teachings of the Church, Catholics are called to acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral truths found in the social life and culture of other religious traditions," Cdl. Filipe Neri Ferrão announced in a press statement.
"It is distressing to note that certain expressions used recently in public by some members of the Catholic Church may have hurt the religious sentiments of people of other religious traditions," Ferrão, who holds the title of "patriarch of the east," stated.
The cardinal, who sparked controversy for encouraging his clergy to visit idols of Ganesha during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi last year, cited Vatican II's Nostra Aetate to support his "appeal to respect each other's religion."
Cardinal Ferrão, who faced severe criticism from Goa's laity for downgrading Jesus and promoting a "masonic relativism" by endorsing clergy visits to Hindu idols, also quoted Pope Francis' human fraternity concordat with the grand imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb.
"In this regard, we deeply regret that certain recent pronouncements made by some members of the Church have gone against the authentic spirit of interreligious dialogue and reciprocal respect," the cardinal noted.
"We wish to assure that the Church leadership has taken appropriate action with regard to them and has also sternly warned them to avoid such utterances in the future," he stressed.
Sources in Goa told Church Militant that the cardinal was targeting Fr. Haston Julius Rock Fernandes, assistant priest at St. Michael Church in Taleigão, who provoked controversy after he preached a fiery sermon on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Velankanni ("Good Health") in Tamil Nadu.
"Don't go from faith to superstition, to idolatry, to black magic," Fr. Fernandes preached to his pilgrims, addressing the widespread syncretism and witchcraft prevalent among many Goan Catholics. "How can you pray the prayer of a true God before a false god?"
Warning Catholics not to "harden your hearts like a stone" and worship Hindu deities, Fr. Fernandes continued, "You cannot serve two gods. Blind gods! We can't call them gods. They are idols. They are not our gods."
"We take images of Our Lady of Velankanni of Velankanni and install them in front of our homes and then take magic potions of the gaddis (witchdoctors) and put them in our kitchens and in our bedrooms," the priest thundered. "Stop all this. There will be no peace!"
A high proportion of Goan Catholics indulge in the occult, particularly in the practice of consulting a "gaddi" who is "a mix between a priest, a soothsayer, a black magician or sorcerer and a medium for communicating with spirits," writes journalist Pedro Menezes.
In a May 2013 article for Goa Streets, Menezes described a witchdoctor in Margao who got possessed by "Mother Mary," started talking in a female voice and answering people's queries on certain days of the week and dressed in a white bridal costume when he went into a trance.
Catholics turn to gaddis for "everything from advice on how to bring up children to casting evil spells on enemies," he adds, noting how one Muslim "tantric" specializes in "serious black magic involving animal sacrifices."
"This is an age-old problem, but bishops and priests will not dare to confront it because they are too scared of backlash from the people," a Goan lay leader told Church Militant. "Fr. Fernandes is facing the cardinal's wrath because he has dared to touch the taboo."
In his sermon, Fr. Fernandes also warned his congregation not to put the Hindu symbol of "OM" in their homes or tattoo it on their arms.
Elaborating on occultic practices followed by Catholics, the priest preached:
And then you go to your priest asking for blessings, sprinkling of holy water, prayers? Evil spirits are haunting you? Who brought them into your homes? Who brought Satan into your homes? You brought them in as guests!
Father Fernandes also spoke of Catholic mothers-in-law using witchcraft against their daughters-in-law and exhorted his listeners to repent and turn to Christ:
Before marriage, you say, "My girl. My girl!" After the wedding, you force them into witchcraft. How many mothers-in-law are present here who, to prevent your daughters-in-law from getting pregnant, break coconuts and hang lemons (occultic rituals)? So many women have told me that their mothers-in-law are forcing them into witchcraft. No one wants to talk about this! Mothers-in-law are responsible for this mess. What [occultic] potions do you bring and force-feed your daughters-in-law, causing abortion and miscarriage?
Several Goan priests attacked Fr. Fernandes in WhatsApp groups, with Fr. Victor Siqueira asking if the Church should "wait for the police to take action" if "the preaching is against the teaching of Nostra Aetate n. 3."
In an interview with Gomantak TV, prominent canonist Fr. Mousinho de Ataide dismissed Fr. Fernandes as a priest lacking "common sense." Placating the Hindu interviewer, Fr. Ataide said that verses in the Old Testament in which God commanded the destruction of the Canaanites were not inspired by God.
The canonist went on to use the expletive s*** in English and its equivalents in Portuguese and Konkani to describe Fr. Fernandes. "Other priests are also using the term to slander Fr. Fernandes in WhatsApp groups," a Goan lay leader told Church Militant.
Meanwhile, Indian Catholics have issued a "reverent and filial appeal" to bishops warning that the Catholic Church in India "is contaminated by very serious heresies."
"A continual process of reinterpreting the Catholic faith and adapting the Church to Hindu religion and culture is underway in Catholic seminaries and universities, in religious orders and congregations, in dialogue centers and in the so-called Catholic ashrams throughout India," the appeal states.
The appeal warns of a new Catholic concept of mission that is "not about converting people to the Church, but about making a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Muslim a better Hindu, a better Buddhist and a better Muslim, and thus, more faithful to their own religions."
Catholics form some 30% of Goa's 1.3 million people. The area was evangelized by St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552). Hindus constitute around 65% of the population.