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PANJIM, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics are rebuking Goa archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão for downgrading Jesus and promoting a "masonic relativism" by endorsing clergy visits to Hindu idols.
Writing in the diocesan magazine Renovação, the newly-created cardinal urged Catholics to "imbibe the perennial values" that the festival of the elephant-headed deity Ganesh celebrates.
While about 500 Goan Catholics and others from India and abroad have signed an online petition, Hinduism scholar Fr. Victor Borde is warning the hierarchy of backsliding into zoolatry, the worship of animals.
Titled "Don't Put Ganesh on Par with Jesus, Cdl. Ferrão," the appeal denounces Ferrão for replacing the "uniqueness and definitiveness" of Christ with a "fruit salad of religions."
This has the effect of "witnessing to a radical religious relativism which puts the living Jesus on par with a clay Ganesh," the petition states.
The Association of Concerned Catholics posted the petition Sunday after diocesan officials rebuffed parishioners who objected to Goan clergy's recent visits to family shrines displaying idols of the elephant-headed Ganesh.
One of those officials is Fr. Aleixo Menezes, rector of Goa's Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, who wrote a cover-page article in the diocesan magazine Renovação defending clergy pilgrimages to Ganesh idols.
"Actions, pictures and symbols speak louder than words," the petition states. "The study of semiotics shows how such sign processes are, in fact, intended to communicate meaning at full volume."
A priest who dons his cassock, takes his flock to visit a family shrine honoring Ganesh and stands reverentially before the Ganesh idol during the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, dethrones Christ as the only way to God and demotes Him to one of the ways, the petition notes.
Church Militant earlier reported on several priests paying homage to Ganesh idols. The Nirmala Institute of Education run by the Daughters of the Heart of Mary even printed invitations calling for the worship of Ganesh ("Shree Ganeshaya Namaha") and asked invitees to "join us to celebrate the festival and seek blessings of the lord [Ganesh]."
The petition takes issue with the featured picture on the cover page of Renovação, which portrays symbols of the major world religions, including the cross, on flower petals — all equidistant from the center.
Such iconography downgrades the cross of Christ "by placing it on par with the Islamic crescent, the Hindu Om, the Buddhist dharmachakra, the Sikh khaṇḍā and other symbols in the pluralist pantheon," the petition argues.
Quoting St. Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the petition reminds Cdl. Ferrão that the cross is "folly to those who are perishing, but the power of God to those who are being saved" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The petition also accuses Fr. Menezes of attempting to "gaslight the faithful" by misquoting two texts from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians on the topic of whether Christians should eat food offered to pagan idols.
Decrying Fr. Menezes' "breathtaking arrogance," the petition corrects him by quoting scriptural passages stating that "an idol has no real existence" (1 Corinthians 8:4) and that pagan idols are "demons" (1 Corinthians 10:19–20). Thus, Christians cannot "drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons" (ibid.).
Also, the petition rebukes Fr. Menezes for "provoking scandal" by using St. Paul's words out of context as a means to rationalize idol worship.
"So why visit Ganesh idols if they have no real existence?" the petition asks. "And why trigger scandal by affirming such pagan idolatry?"
The petition also draws on the anti-idolatry polemic of Hindu reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who insisted that idolatry was rejected by the Hindu Shastras (traditional writings) and is a cause of "immorality and destructive of social comfort."
The trajectory of aniconism in Hinduism is explored at length in Noel Salmond's doctoral dissertation and published monograph Hindu Iconoclasts: Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati, and Nineteenth-Century Polemics against Idolatry.
Accusing Fr. Menezes of subverting Jesus' "centrifugal" Great Commission "to go and make disciples of all nations" into a "centripetal option," the petition asks if the ancestors of Indian Catholics would have become Christian if St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier had remained in Jerusalem and Spain instead of going as missionaries to convert the Hindus of India.
"Menezes also offers us a false dichotomy between proclamation and good works," the petition argues in response to Menezes' moratorium on conversion. "We need both: Our evangelistic proclamation clarifies our good works, and our charitable works of witness give credibility to our preaching of the gospel."
Denouncing Fr. Menezes' argument that "Catholicity" justifies Ganesh worship, the petition explains that the word "Catholic" means what "has always believed in the Church everywhere, always, and by all (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est)."
Hinduism expert Fr. Borde explained to Church Militant that "Hinduism is a syncretism of many pre-Vedic and totemic religions of the indigenous people of India" and "animal and nature worship (elephants, tigers, monkeys, sun, moon, wind, trees, etc.)."
The "elephant being was one of the most popular deities of the indigenous totemic people," according to Borde, author of The Purusha Suktam: An A-Religious Inquiry Into a Sacred Text. "It was Adi Shankar Acharya who reduced thousands of gods worshipped in various parts of India to five deities, Ganesh being one of them."
"In this context, paying homage to Ganesh is going back to zoolatry/totemism worship," Borde warned. "It's the same sin the Israelites committed in making the golden calf and provoking God's anger, which destroyed them (Exodus 32)."
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul laments the folly of idolaters who "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Romans 1:23).
While several priests signed the plea, more than 200 of the faithful made comments asking the hierarchy not to lead the laity astray. Commenters also asked why Catholic priests who were ashamed to wear their cassocks in normal circumstances were so eager to parade before the idols in their cassocks.
"They've crossed all limits," Óscar de Noronha wrote. "This madness must stop forthwith." The Goan Catholic intellectual and writer previously slammed the clergy's Ganesh idolatry in a column titled "Elephantine Blunder," punning on the elephant-headed idol.
"Shame on those hypocrites who do not realize that different faiths [sic] are parallel rays which cannot converge," veteran judge Michael F. Saldanha remarked. "Starting with the cardinal and Menezes, have the honesty to renounce, depart and merge with the other stream of your choice — good riddance!"
Critics have warned that the Church's stampede to embrace the Ganesh deity is playing into the hands of militant Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), since the cult of Ganesh was first used by nationalist Lokmanya Tilak against the British and the Muslims. It is currently used by Hindu nationalist groups to foment hatred against religious minorities in India.
Earlier this month, Goan media reported on inhabitants of the Goan fishing village of Cacra, who practiced syncretism by venerating idols of Ganesh alongside images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They reverted to Hinduism and abandoned Catholicism.
Speaking on behalf of Cdl. Ferrão, the archbishop's secretary, Fr. J. Loiola Pereira, said the archdiocese had "no response" to Church Militant's request for comment.
The cardinal's staff did not reply to a query asking him what, according to Hinduism, were "the perennial values" of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi that he was exhorting Catholics to imbibe. Fr. Menezes also did not respond to a request for comment.
Catholics wishing to sign the statement can click on this link.