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PANAJI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) The archdiocese of Goa, under the newly-created cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, is defending clergy visits to Hindu idols, following a furious backlash from faithful Catholics.
An article on the diocese's website on Friday slammed "ignorant and divisive online media" and "certain sections of society" for labeling the visits "as idolatry."
Locals said that the diocese was engaging in "desperate damage control" after Church Militant reported that Cdl. Ferrão was encouraging Catholics to visit Hindu shrines and homes during the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.
Trying to justify clergy visits to the Ganesh idols, the article by Fr. Onasis D'Cruz upheld Jesus as the "ultimate model and inspiration for interreligious harmony," as exemplified by his encounters with the Syrophoenician woman and the Samaritan woman.
D'Cruz also cited the parable of the good Samaritan and Jesus' praise of the Roman officer's faith as justification for interfaith engagement, while misusing a quote from St. Paul's letter to the Romans: "Live in peace with all, if possible, to the extent that it depends on you."
Without naming Church Militant, D'Cruz blasted "images, videos and news items that smack of fanaticism and divisiveness" and insisted that "photos and videos can be misinterpreted, which has been purposely done in the news items circulated on social media."
Ponda resident Fatima Mascarenhas, who has been closely following the brouhaha over the Ganesh idolatry, said she was shocked to see a video from the Diocesan Centre for Social Communications Media trying to justify the priests' visits to the idols.
"I was outraged to see how the Church is glorifying Ganesh while blatantly misusing Scripture to validate it," Mascarenhas told Church Militant. "Jesus did not visit the idols of Baal, but the Syrophoenician woman came to him seeking deliverance for her daughter."
Yoga enthusiasts chant Hindu mantras in a historic Catholic church in Antwerp, Belgium
The evangelist Mark is persuading Jesus' Jewish disciples to go and proclaim the gospel, however grudgingly, even to those Gentiles traditionally regarded as enemies of Israel. This has to do with evangelization and not the false gospel of interfaith dialogue.
By visiting Ganesh idols during a Hindu festival, our priests are promoting indifferentism and sending out a very strong message that Jesus, like Ganesh, is simply another way in the vast Hindu pantheon of deities. Jesus himself tells us he did not come to bring peace but division.
Meanwhile, in a weekend piece titled "Elephantine Blunder" (a wordplay on the elephant-headed deity, Ganesh), Goan Catholic intellectual Óscar de Noronha, blasted the Church's hierarchy for "jumping on the idol-worship bandwagon."
"It is significant that, close on the heels of an elephantine blunder that we have witnessed in our archdiocese, this Sunday's Liturgy of the Word comes down heavily on those who scandalously turn to other gods," de Noronha wrote.
"In the first reading (Exodus 32: 7–11, 13–14), God is rightfully angry with his people for forgetting Him who had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. Now they worship abominable little gods of their own making," the academic and author noted.
"The laxity in the practice of our Faith seems to be a natural consequence of an 'inculturation' gone awry. It has shown us the true colors of the so-called interfaith dialogue," he added, asking for clarity on clergy paying homage to Hindu idols.
Church Militant asked Fr. Joaquim Loiola Pereira, the secretary to Cdl. Ferrão, why the archdiocese's article had failed to explain the presence of Ganesh idols on the premises of the Nirmala Institute of Education and the Don Bosco School and College.
The invitation sent out by the nuns is inscribed with a Sanskrit phrase calling for the worship of Ganesh ("Shree Ganeshaya Namaha") and asks invitees to "join us to celebrate the festival and seek blessings of the Lord," Church Militant reported.
In 2019, Don Bosco Primary School in Alto Dabolim, even held a "special assembly" where an "aarti" (an act of worship) was performed to the idol of "Lord Ganesha," the school reported on the website of the Don Bosco Konkan Development Society.
Children at seven special training centers run by Goa's Salesians were asked to draw and sculpt Ganesh idols, and at Don Bosco High School and Junior College, rector Fr. Ian Figueiredo asked students to celebrate the Ganesh festival "with joy and devotion." Don Bosco College even organized an "idol-making competition" in 2019.
Citing The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, which documents the Jesuit's contempt for idolatry, locals told Church Militant how Goa's modernist clergy were attempting to subvert the legacy of the Jesuit missions to Goa and of St. Francis Xavier and his zeal for saving souls.
Writing about his missionary journey to India, St. Francis Xavier praised children who converted from Hinduism to Catholicism for "their hatred of idolatry." The saint described how "they get into feuds with the heathen about it, and whenever their own parents practice it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once."
Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honor and worship from their parents, relations and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about and, in short, heap on them every possible outrage.
A Rome-based biblical scholar also noted how the archdiocese seriously misinterpreted St. Paul. He explained how, in contrast to Fr. D'Cruz's reading of the Syrophoenician woman, modern interpreters often accuse Jesus of "prejudice and ethnocentrism," since Jesus appears to insult the Syrophoenician with a racial slur by calling her a "dog."
"The theme of 'particularity and universality' is present all through Sacred Scripture, and both the Old and New Testaments are glowing in their praise of the faith of the 'outsider,'" he stressed.
"But this has nothing to do with interreligious dialogue. It is about Gentiles coming to faith in Israel's God and being included within the people of God," he explained.
Biblical commentators underscore St. Paul's abhorrence and public condemnation of idols, even when his polemic — rooted in the Old Testament censure and mockery of pagan idolatry — was likely to disturb interreligious harmony and provoke riots as it did in Ephesus (Acts 19: 23–41), he added.
New Testament historian N.T. Wright in his Paul and the Faithfulness of God, quips: "I often mention, when lecturing, the bishop who complained that everywhere Paul went there was a riot, but everywhere he went people served tea."
Luke, the author of Acts, uses the Greek word "paroxyno" (the word from which "paroxysm" comes — a medical term used for a seizure or epileptic fit) to describe Paul's response to pagan idols in Athens (Acts 17:16). "Paroxyno" is the verb regularly used in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) to describe Yahweh's reaction to idolatry.
Paul's earliest letter describes how the Thessalonian converts "turned to God from idols" (1 Thessalonians 1:9) — a phrase that professor I. Howard Marshall calls "a classic description of what it meant for a group of Gentiles to become Christians."
Elsewhere, Paul reminds the Corinthians how they were "enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak," (1 Corinthians 12:2), warning them to "flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14) and stressing the incompatibility of "God's temple" and "idols" (2 Corinthians 6:16).
Fr. Joaquim Loiola Pereira did not respond to Church Militant's request for comment.