Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held discussions with representatives of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in New Delhi in a bid to resolve the century old dispute between two Kerala based Syrian church groups. He met three senior priests of the church at his office, a day after discussions with representatives of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church there.
The two church groups issued separate statements on Tuesday, hailing their meeting with Modi as “cordial and fruitful”. The feud between the two factions intensified following implementation of a 2017 Supreme Court order, granting the Orthodox faction possession of over 1,000 churches and properties attached to them.
Following their separate meetings with the PM over two days, representatives of the two groups met at Mizoram Bhawan in New Delhi for the lunch hosted by Governor P S Sreedharan Pillai, who arranged their meetings with Modi. The Jacobite faction said their delegates drew the attention of the Prime Minister to the “denial of religious freedom, freedom of worship and justice that the Jacobite Syrian Church is undergoing.” and sought his intervention to end the dispute.
In its statement, they described the Orthodox faction as a “dissident group” who separated from them and were “creating issues by misusing” a 2017 Apex court order in a church dispute case. “The faithful of the Jacobite Church are evicted from their churches and even denied burial rights in their cemeteries.” It said that disputes, especially related to faith, cannot be resolved through endless litigation and there should be other means to find solutions to issues.
“The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s involvement is valuable”, the Jacobite faction said in the statement. The Church said their delegation appealed to Modi to “intervene to protect” their “constitutional and fundamental rights.” “Also ensuring the democratic rights of believers of this ancient church in India, namely Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, is needed”, the statement said.
The Jacobite church said Modi carefully listened to their grievances and assured he would do his best for an amicable solution. “Hon’ble Prime Minister Modiji himself is a person who always cares for the marginalised. We feel today’s meetings was a step in the right direction”, the statement added.
The Orthodox faction said a key factor presented before the PM was the July 3 2017 Supreme Court decision, which determined that there should be a united church, based on the 1934 constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Church. As a public trust there could not be a division or separation of churches within the church, it said in a statement.
The Orthodox faction said the prime minister gave a patient hearing to various issues, and while aware of the ancient origins of the Malankara Orthodox Church, expressed hope that a reconciliation formula should be worked out on the basis of the Supreme Court judgement. He also expressed his sincere commitment to ensure that there is a larger peace and brotherhood among the faithful, the Orthodox faction said.
Earlier, the CPI(M)-led LDF government had attempted to mediate between the factions to end their feud over the administration of 1,000- odd parishes. The effort by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to cobble together a peace formula acceptable to both sides did not yield results due to the raging feud between two factions.
While the Orthodox faction stuck to their demand that the 2017 Supreme Court order be implemented, the Jacobite faction alleged that the other group was “misinterpreting” the order and “taking over” their churches unethically. The protests by both the groups have often resulted in law order issues in several parishes in the state.
The Kerala Chief Minister welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts in initiating discussions to resolve the dispute. “The dispute between the two factions of the Malankara church is a serious matter which has created law and order issues. The Prime Minister’s decision to intervene and find a solution to the vexed issue is welcome,” Vijayan told reporters here when asked about the matter. “I do not think there is any politics involved in the PM’s intervention”, Vijayan said.
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