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TNN | Karwar | Sept 13, 2019:: Photographs on social media of Belagavi diocese Bishop Derek Fernandes, wearing saffron robes and with a vermilion tilak, have stirred a controversy for the Roman Catholic Church in the country.
The pictures of Fernandes accompanied by unidentified men – all in the same attire and with some sporting rudraksha malas – appear to show the bishop performing the sacrament of the Eucharist in a church with pictures of Hindu swamis. The pictures, posted on Twitter by journalist-activist Savio Rodrigues, set off a firestorm of charges against the prelate.
Some accused Fernandes, whom Pope Francis appointed as the sixth bishop of Belgaum on May 1, of trying to mislead Hindus and described it as a ploy to convert them. Several Christians on Twitter warned the bishop against such activities and some charged him with blasphemy. Bishop Fernandes, currently in Rome, was unavailable for comment.
Activist receives threats for tweeting bishop’s pics
Philip Kutty Joseph, vicar general of the Belgaum diocese, said the
photographs were taken on August 29 on a visit by Bishop Fernandes to a church in Deshnur, 28km from Belagavi.
“The church was earlier called Virakta mutt,” he said. “Jesuit priests first went there more than 40 years ago and adopted Indian practices such as donning saffron robes. In fact, the tabernacle is in the form of a Shiva linga.”
Fr Nelson Pinto, a priest of the diocese who responded when TOI attempted to contact Bishop Fernandes at his residence by phone, explained that when the first Jesuit priests went to Deshnur, in a predominantly Lingayat region, they adopted the local culture.
“The Jesuit priests became vegetarians and embraced other local practices,”Pinto said. “They did not do it to convert the people who lived there.”
Metropolitan Archbishop of Goa & Daman and Patriarch of the East Indies Filipe Neri Ferrão said he was unaware of the incident involving Bishop Fernandes, but said it appeared to be part of a practice that the Catholic Church calls inculturation.
“The photographs appear to be of a ceremony that includes inculturation, which the Catholic Church advises in liturgy, attire and so on. It’s the assimilation of local culture,” he said.
Even as the Church played down the controversy, however, journalist and activist Rodrigues received threats for tweeting pictures of Bishop Fernandes.
Twitter user Adv Don Vaz posted a message with Rodrigues’ image, saying: “Savio Rodrigues, Judas in the name of Catholic. Reward of Rs 50,000 if anyone makes his face black & garlands him with shoes [sic].”
Others, like Pio Antao (@AntaoPio), took offence to a perceived insult to the Catholic religion. Replying to the tweets by Rodrigues (@PrinceArihan), hesaid: “Hey Savio whoever you maybe please don’t speak against our catholic religion. You have no right to talk against our religion [sic].”
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