SIOLIM, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Goa's new cardinal-archbishop, Filipe Neri Ferrão, is refusing to discipline priests who are scandalizing the laity by participating in public veneration of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha.
Instead, the archdiocese of Goa — a former Portuguese enclave in India evangelized by the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier — is encouraging the faithful to visit Hindu shrines and homes during the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.
Irate parishioners from St. Anthony's Church in Siolim, North Goa, told Church Militant they were shocked when assistant parish priest Fr. Francisco Xavier Barretto took a youth group to several homes to pay their respects to the Ganesh idol and was photographed praying to the idol.
The Siolim church houses a unique St. Anthony statue that depicts the saint strangling the infernal enemy of God — the Serpent — with his cord. The statue captures the miracle of deliverance from a huge snake who was obstructing the construction of the church.
"The then-rector was inspired to keep St. Anthony's statue out at night when the snake was terrorizing the masons. The next morning, he found the serpent strangled by the cord hanging from the hand," a parishioner told Church Militant.
"It is okay to visit and extend greetings to people of other beliefs on their festivities, but not to set a scandalous example to the youth. Is this not idolatry like the Pachamama incident in Rome?" the distraught Catholic asked.
"In the name of inculturation, Jesus is 'no longer the only true God,' but the clergy have made Jesus an equal among other pagan gods. We are reminded of the worship of the golden calf the Israelites performed," he added.
Travis D'Souza from Guirim, Goa, slammed as "a direct violation of the First Commandment" the rapidly spreading Catholic participation in the Hindu festival and the veneration of the Ganesh idol promoted by Catholic priests.
"It pains me to see such an act by a Catholic priest," D'Souza lamented. "These actions reek of syncretism, and they are the reason for the doctrinal confusion. I pray this priest repents publicly for what he has done, as he is leading others into mortal sin."
"I was shocked to see a young Catholic priest participating in something like this. He is setting a bad example for others in a place where we have many non-Christian festivals through the year," Maizel Leitao, also from Guirim, told Church Militant.
On Friday, after the newly created cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão returned from Rome, the archdiocesan website posted pictures of the youth of Bom Jesus Church in Nachinola visiting multiple shrines and homes housing the Ganesh idol.
The archdiocese said this was being done "under the guidance and leadership of their parish priest, Fr. Francisco Fernandes," to build "good human community." The archdiocese has put out guidelines encouraging Catholics to visit Hindu neighbors during the Ganesh festival.
The Nirmala Institute of Education, a Catholic teacher training center run by the Daughters of the Heart of Mary in Altinho, Goa, has hosted the idol of Ganesh over the last few years, locals told Church Militant.
The invitation sent out by the nuns on Monday 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."
In a phone conversation, Fr. Elvis Fernandes, a priest of the Society of St. Francis Xavier (Pilar Fathers), told Church Militant he viewed his visits to homes housing the idol of the elephant-headed deity as "evangelization."
Scandalized laymen sent the pictures circulated by Fr. Fernandes on WhatsApp to Church Militant, but the priest, who engages in interfaith dialogue, maintained he believed in the "dialogue of life" and people would see Christ through his actions.
Church Militant asked the priest how he would respond to the narrative in Acts 17, which, in Greek, describes St. Paul as having a "paroxyno" (the word from which "paroxysm" comes — a medical term used for a seizure or epileptic fit) when he saw the idolatry in Athens.
The verb "paroxyno" is regularly used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) to describe God's reaction to idolatry, especially when the Israelites made the golden calf at Mount Sinai and worshipped idols of the Canaanite–Phoenician fertility deity, Baal.
"The priests may not be worshipping Ganesh, but, by their presence, they are acknowledging the false god and misleading the flock," Goan Catholic Diana D'Souza told Church Militant, citing Jesus' warning about causing the "little ones" to stumble (Matthew 18:6).
"Our pastors are under the false assumption that such visits bring about brotherhood and common understanding. Sadly, these occasions nullify Our Lord's mission to go out and convert, thereby becoming uncharitable to save the souls of the pagans," Anton Felipe Lobo added.
Church Militant earlier reported how Fr. Peter Cardozo, also a Pilar Father, led his troupe from St. Anne's Church, Agonda, to sing bhajans (devotional songs) before the idols of Ganesh.
"The aim was to sing bhajans to the Hindu deity, especially the Ganesh idol, which is revered by Hindus with great faith, pomp and gaiety," Fr. Cardozo told Goan newspaper O Heraldo.
"Such was the appreciation by the Hindu community that the troupe led by Fr. Cardozo was then invited to perform before many other sarvajanik ("public") Ganesh idols during the last 10 days in the village," the daily reported.
According to Hindu legend, the deity Ganesh is the son of Shiva (one of the principal deities of Hinduism) and his consort Parvati, who fashioned a child from her body dirt while her husband was away.
When Shiva returned and Ganesh refused to let him enter, the father chopped off his son's head. To comfort the inconsolable Parvati, Shiva then hunted the first animal he saw (an elephant) and brought back its head to replace the boy's head.
Church Militant wrote to Cdl. Ferrão, pointing out how the veneration of Ganesh by Catholic clerics — even bishops — in many parts of India was scandalizing the laity, and asked why the prelate, who is president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, had not issued any statement rejecting syncretism.
The cardinal, who has been mired in multiple land scandals, did not respond as of press time.
In 2017, Rafael Zornoza Boy, bishop of Cadiz and Ceuta in Spain, apologized after his vicar general, Fr. Juan José Mateos Castro, allowed the local Hindu community to parade inside his church with an image of Ganesh.
After the idol had processed into the church, a group of Catholics sang a Marian hymn dedicated to Our Lady of Africa while venerating Ganesh. A few individuals went up to the idol and prayed a Hail Mary while looking at the Hindu deity.
Indian Catholic apologist Michael Prabhu has documented several instances of priests and bishops paying homage to Ganesh in India.