Furore over Belagavi bishop’s saffron robe
Bengaluru: Belgaum diocese Bishop Derek Fernandes in north Karnataka has stirred a controversy by wearing saffron robes and sporting a prominent vermilion tilak resembling a Lingayat swamy.
His picture was posted on social media and he was accompanied by unidentified men — all in the same attire and with some wearing rudraksha malas round their neck.
The photos appear to show the bishop performing the sacrament of the Eucharist in a church with pictures of Hindu swamis.
The controversial pictures were posted on Twitter by journalist-activist Savio Rodrigues, according to the Times of India.
Philip Kutty Joseph, vicar general of the Belgaum diocese, confirmed that the photographs were taken on August 29 when Bishop Fernandes visited a church in Deshnur, 28 km 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,” he was quoted by ToI.
Fr Nelson Pinto, a priest of the diocese, explained the story behind the attire and said 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 whole incident. However, he added that Bishop Fernandes appeared to have followed 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 an assimilation of local culture,” he said.
The pictures triggered a massive debate. Some accused Fernandes of trying convert the local population while many Christians took to Twitter to warn the bishop against such activities;some charged him with blasphemy.
Bishop Fernandes is currently in Rome. He was appointed by the Pope as the sixth bishop of the Belagavi church on May 1.
Meanwhile, journalist and activist Rodrigues received threats for tweeting the pictures of Bishop Fernandes.