March 12, 2018 Author: Dr. John Vazhakoottathil OCD 0 Comments


There was a time when the seminarians were open to the cultural, religious and social life of the people and the culture was not hostile to religion. But the French revolution overturned the traditional life of the Church and it brought about a profound transformation in the life of the clergy. In the face of this onslaught the seminary changed from its original open stance to a closed one and distanced itself from society in order to protect candidates for priesthood from the negative influences of the world. Separation from urban life often became geographical as well. In remote surroundings the students came to be formed in a strict discipline which did not always value personal initiative. Seminaries entered into a period of stagnation while things around them changed very rapidly. Since effective pastoral action presupposes a close knowledge of the contemporary human situation and of the society to which the Church has to address herself, appropriate measures are to be introduced in the formation of the candidates to make them up to date to address the particular context with an effective pastoral discernment.


A priest shared his two experiences that helped him to be contextualized  and be prepared to address the existential questions of the present day analyzing the signs of the times so that he could become a true shepherd of the souls of a particular place. One is his going for work after completing his philosophical studies and the other is his participation in a liturgical seminar during his theological studies. During his three months stay at home, as a part of formation, everyday he hurried back from the Church, after the Mass, to go for work. He reached his work site after a suffocating journey in two buses. There the scholarship of his history of philosophy encountered with the practical philosophy of sincerity, hard work and mutual collaboration of the workers. The reality of human sacrifice, the sharp, realistic and ground touching questions of the young men and women, the enthusiasm and the good will of the elderly challenged the synthesis of thought that he had arrived at during his studies. He soon realized that he is just an aspirant in the school of thought. Similar was his experience at the liturgical seminar. The lay participants surprised him by the awareness of their rights and duties as members of the Church and by their high level of preparation to be true participants in the seminar. Their contributions in the dialogues opened to him new worlds of theological discussions. The discipleship and the configuration into the life of Jesus, the Master and Shepherd, is an ongoing process and it is ratified by the constant contact with the context.

It was in the early 1970’s that the word ‘contextualization’ was coined particularly with a view for the task of the education and formation of the candidates for the pastoral ministry of the Church. Two major types of contextual theology can be identified in the history of theology, namely, the indigenization model and the socio-economic model. The first model presents itself as a translation or as a process of  inculturation. The socio-economic model of contextualization can be evolutionary or revolutionary. The political theology and the theology of development propose a gradual evolution where as liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology, etc. call for a paradigm shift in doing theology. We can observe that in the early Church, the missionary message was incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it. But later when the Church came to be established in the Roman empire, any deviation in doing theology was declared a heresy. The role of cultural, political and social factors in the genesis of theology was not accepted.[i]

Under the influence of Greek way of thinking, a priori, the ideas and principles were considered to be prior to and more important than their application. David J. Bosch said, “Churches arrogated to themselves the right to determine what the ‘objective’ truth of the Bible was and to direct the application of this timeless truth to the everyday life of believers. With the advent of Enlightenment this approach received a new lease of life. In the Kantian paradigm, for instance, ‘pure’ or ‘theoretical’ reason was superior to ‘practical reason’.”[ii] Later, in the first half of the 17th century Francis Bacon, an English philosopher and scientist, popularised a posteriori method of reasoning. Here, the earlier deductive thinking made way for an inductive or empirical method in science. Instead of starting from classically derived principles and theories one now started with observation. “In ecclesial and theological circles where this method was adopted […] creeds and dogmas were no longer judged on the basis of their conformity to eternal truth but in terms of their usefulness.”[iii] Friedrich Schleiermacher said that ‘what has once been cannot simply be brought back in a later period. The Church is always in the process of becoming. The Church of the present is both the product of the past and the seed of the future. Therefore, theology is a reflection on the Church’s on life and experience’.[iv]

We have to admit that theology by its very nature is contextual. There can never be a ‘pure theology’ which is supra-cultural and supra-historical. The real breakthrough in this respect came with the birth of Third-World theologies in their various forms. In this article we try to affirm how it is important that a candidate for priesthood be contextualized in a culture to which he is oriented to be a testimony of Christianity and exercise his pastoral ministry.

1.Analisis of the Religious and Cultural Context in Kerala

Kerala is a land of many religions and the people belong to each religion hail from various ethnic groups. Kerala is a land that welcomed almost all the important religions of the world in the initial periods of their origin. The people of Kerala accepted with equal importance the three great religions which came from the main land India – Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism – and the three great religions which came from outside India – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.[v] A study of the history of religions in Kerala will make it clear that Kerala was a land of popular religiosity. The religious practices in the ancient Kerala were popular in nature. They did not adhere to a system of thought or any institutionalized system of worship. In his book Cultural Heritage of Kerala, A. Sreedhara Menon states that their way of life was a strange mixture of primitive rites and practices. They had a variety of local deities to whom they made offerings of food. Tree worship and ancestor worship were common among them. There were no narrow caste or communal barriers. In fact, the early Dravidian society was an open society based on the principles of social freedom and equality and the recognition of the dignity of labor.[vi] Although in the course of history there entered Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism from the North India on the one hand, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the outside on the other, the popular religious character survived throughout the religious history of Kerala.[vii] Even today we can see that side by side with all the institutional religious practices, there are popular religious expressions in all the religions in Kerala.

The socio-political organization of Kerala is characterized by a tension between the socio-political order of Aryans and that of the Dravidians. There are, thus, some ethnic groups of Kerala with an orthodox bend of mind who cherish a hierarchical human society based on birth on the one hand, and the progressive thinkers with all the people of the lowest strata of the society who cherish a socio-political order which respect the human dignity beyond all unjust social stratifications, on the other. As a result of the presence of the religious and traditional socio-political systems and the secular and progressive socio-political ideologies, and their mutual criticism in the process of the implementation of various developmental programs, Kerala stands out from the rest of India in the field of education, health care, land reforms, the struggles against social and religious injustice, movement for food security and a socio-political unity beyond caste barriers.[viii]

The ancient religious culture of Kerala was ignorant about the compartmentalized and institutionalized religion. Religious devotions did not mean to them an exclusivism. Although they worshipped God calling in different names, yet they had respect for each other and helped each other in human needs. But later the introduction of Vedic Hinduism with a new socio-political order patronized by their belief systems gravely hurt the religious life of the people in Kerala. Though the Hindu religion integrated some ethnic groups of Kerala into their caste hierarchy yet, the majority were rejected and they were called ‘out castes’ and they were ‘untouchables’. Thus the religion became a measure of socio-political status. There occurred also a crisis among the Christians with the arrival of missionaries because of their effort to establish uniformity in the mode of worship. All these religious unrest provoked the emergence of humanism in Kerala.[ix]

The last decades of the 19th century witnessed the rise of powerful reform movements in the social and religious spheres of human life in Kerala. One of the famous person to be noted here is Sree Narayana Guru (1854-1928). He became very popular throughout Kerala as he was propagating a humanism beyond the religious barriers. He said that there is ‘one caste, one religion, one God for man’ and he added that ‘whatever be one’s religion, it is enough that individual becomes good’.[x] There are also powerful secular critics of religion in Kerala who always raise voice against the superstitions and exploitations in the name of God. For example, Rajan Gurukkal, the previous Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, in his book, Myth Charithram Samooham,[xi] criticizes the exaggerated presentation of human realities by the religious leaders and the superstitious and unreasonable responses they give to the human realities with a motive of exploitation.[xii] He remembers, how Mahavira and Buddha were against the ritualistic religion. He cites in his book many number of other great social and religious leaders of India who spoke against pure ritualism without a practical orientation.[xiii]

It was the missionaries who came to Kerala from the close of 13th century[xiv] who propagated the Catholic Popular Devotions in Kerala.[xv] In his article, “An Attitudinal Study of Popular Devotions”, Paul Karachira makes a Scientific study interviewing the representatives of 20 parishes in Kerala and enumerates 36 items of popular devotions.[xvi] Some more popular devotions in Kerala are: family Rosary, participation in pious associations oriented to social service, fasting, visiting Cemetery and paying homage to the dead, novena to Saints and Mary, pilgrimages, first Friday devotion, Scapular devotion, solemn celebration of feasts of the patron Saints, devotion to Rosary as a pious article and devotion to the passion of the Lord especially during the Lent.[xvii] Charismatic movement is another organized structure of  the popular religiosity in Kerala.  In India charismatic movement had its beginning at Mumbai in 1972 and became popular in Kerala in 1976.[xviii]At present there are about 87 charismatic retreat centers all over Kerala.[xix] The charismatic movement in the Catholic Church may be considered one of the expressions of the outpouring of the Spirit in the post-Vatican period. However, since it is also a human endeavor, this movement can be fraught with dangers of human manipulation and distortion. In fact, in many instances, this has happened.[xx]

Pastores dabo vobis states that inculturation is not syncretism or a simple adaptation of the announcement of the Gospel, but its penetration into the very life of cultures so that it may become incarnate in them.[xxi] To actualize the penetration of the Gospel values into the cultures the pastors are to be penetrated by the culture, to be incarnated into the culture. They have to first be in the present culture so that they can bring the culture out of it to a world view of transcendence to let the people of culture experience the true religious values.

2.The Popular Religiosity and Jesus of Nazareth

A religious tradition that was systematically popularized in ancient Israel was that the heaven is with seven levels, one upon the other.[xxii] To reach the second level from the first, one must walk five hundred long years and God dwells in the seventh level! God spoke to the people from the highest heavens through the prophets giving them promises of hope and sometimes warnings of punishments against their infidelity. But the people failed to keep the precepts of God and the religious leaders said that God has closed the heavens leaving the people to suffer the consequences of their infidelity. The people of Israel could not contain themselves this silence of the Word of God and we can see their prayers with hearts full of sorrow in the Book of Isaiah chapters 63 and 64. “O Lord, why dost thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear thee not? Return for the sake of thy servants, the tribes of thy heritage.”[xxiii] In chapter 64 we read, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence …to make thy name known to thy adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at thy presence!”[xxiv]

It is to this religious aridity that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”[xxv] Through his life and teachings he proclaimed that God is so near especially to the week and the oppressed and he is Abba. In the Last Supper, reported by Evangelist John we see Jesus presents himself as a servant[xxvi]and said that it is by serving one another they witness the image and likeness of God in them. In Mark we read, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[xxvii]Jesus gave priority to the common human values beyond the local social or religious values. He gave importance to the individual person and tried to protect and encourage even the human sentiments. He wanted to propagate a culture where human person is valued and respected above all the egocentric and pharisaic fulfillment of traditions. He wanted to establish a human community in which love was the unique principle above all the social and institutional laws.

Some authors are of the opinion that the Gospels and the New Testament writings in general resound the religious attitudes that are predominant in the religious ambient of popular devotions.[xxviii] This is clear from the insistence on the practical side of religion[xxix] even by denying the institutionalized expressions. We can read from the Gospels seven episodes which speak of Jesus who intervenes in the lives of the people to cure them and liberate them even going beyond the literal prohibitions of the Sabbath.[xxx] He said categorically that the observation of Sabbath is made for man and the man shall not become a blind slave of the Sabbath forgetting the basic human principles.[xxxi] “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working’.”[xxxii] The very prayer that Jesus taught contains all the characteristics of his religious attitudes and of his disciples which are much in line with the religious attitudes of the people who gather around the centers of popular devotions today. The representatives of the official religion were always challenged by Jesus and his disciples, and the religious authorities were doubtful and even against the religious attitudes of Jesus and his disciples.[xxxiii]

  1. Legrand in his article “Jesus and the Popular Religion of His Times” speaks about the religious atmosphere of Judaism which favored the needs of popular religiosity: “It must […] be borne in mind that Judaism, in the days of Jesus and still nowadays, did not present a clear cut orthodoxy. It was open to various forms which gave place to a wide range of religious sensibilities from the nationalistic fervor of the Zealots to the elitist desert spirituality of the Essenes, from the cultic concern and the conservatism of Sadducees to the progressivism of the Pharisees. Within that range there could be currents better attuned to the needs of popular religiosity.”[xxxiv] The author brings into light the existence of two religious sensibilities within the same spiritual tradition of Judaism. He says that although no clear cut orthodoxy was present in Judaism, the Sadducees, the priestly party, were the representatives of the official religion and the Pharisees represented the popular religious attitudes: “Whereas the Sadducees were aristocratic and clerical and the Essenes, elitists and aloof to the point of eremitism, the Pharisees issued from the laity, were close to the people and their aspirations. [… They] represent a ‘liberal’ current, characterized by vitality and flexibility.”[xxxv]

The  religious sensibility of the Pharisees embraced the belief in the resurrection of the dead, angels as mediators, and signs and miracles.[xxxvi] Although Jesus makes strong remarks against Pharisees and Sadducees, yet, Legrand, in his article states that we can observe when we consider the issues that divided Pharisees and Sadducees, that Jesus was sharing the religious sentiments of the Pharisees. He believes in the Resurrection and does not hesitate to engage in discussion about it with the Sadducees. Matt 23, 23-32 could be a good sample of Pharisee literature. He accepts also the existence of angels, of devils and exorcisms and he does not hesitate to give devils their popular names: not only the Evil One or the devil but also Satan, Beelzebub, Legion, etc.[xxxvii]

Jesus was always moving along with the people of simple faith and responding to their religious sentiments. Although the miracles were not much encouraged by the official religion, his pastoral life was accompanied by miracles of healing and exorcism. He was thus responding to the existential needs of the people. For the official Yahwism, wonders worked by men came under the suspicion of magic and sorcery.[xxxviii] He made pilgrimages to Jerusalem not only for the three pilgrimages prescribed by the Law[xxxix] but also for the other feasts. At the same time, we see that Jesus does not keep the common people in the joy of the momentary satisfaction of here and now.[xl] In him we see a healthy equilibrium between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ dimensions of the religious experience. The miracles he performed and the parables that he uttered were constantly challenging the listeners to this equilibrium that he personally experienced within himself.[xli]

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy stated that the signs of personal piety are already to be found among the first generation of Christians. Inspired by the Jewish tradition, they recommended them following the example of incessant prayer of Jesus and St. Paul.[xlii] The pious Israelite began the day praising and giving thanks to God. In the same spirit, he gave thanks for all his actions during the day.[xliii] Hence, every joyful or sorrowful occasion gave rise to an expression of praise, entreaty, or repentance. The Gospels and the writings of the New Testament contain invocations of Jesus, signs of Christological devotion, which were repeated spontaneously by the faithful outside the context of Liturgy.[xliv]

The Document of the Congregation for the Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis says that ‘each of the dimensions of formation is aimed at a transformation of the heart of the candidate into the image of the heart of Jesus Christ. He was moved when faced with human suffering,[xlv]he went to seek out the lost sheep,[xlvi]and he said that he came not to be served but to serve.[xlvii] The Document says that the entire formation of the seminarians aims at their preparation ‘to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the Good shepherd.[xlviii] It also says that being transformed into the life of Christ the seminarians will learn to distinguish the devotions that helps the inculturation of the Gospel values and those which bring people away from the true Biblical revelation.[xlix]

  1. A Journey of Discipleship and Configuration

In the gospel of John we read that two disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus where he abides.[l] According the experts they were not asking the address of Jesus rather, they wanted to know about his school of thought. They wanted to know about his responses to the fundamental questions that haunt them in their day to day lives. John the Baptist had said to them that Jesus is the lamb of God.[li] He did not tell them that he is the king, the judge, the rabbi, or the anointed one whom they expect to come. Instead  John said: ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ A Pascal lamb was killed and eaten by the Israelites before the exodus from the land of slavery to the land of freedom. It helped them to be united and the blood of the lamb protected them from the angel of destruction. But the blood of that Pascal lamb could not drive out that land of slavery from their minds. Although they were physically free yet they were abiding mentally in Egypt with the memory of their momentary advantages. But here is the new ‘Pascal Lamb’ who proposes the transformation of the minds[lii]for a new exodus. After abiding with him for a day, Andrew met Simon, his brother, and said that they have found the Messiah!

The Document on priestly formation says that the terms ‘discipleship stage’ and ‘configuration stage’ “are intended to focus attention on two moments of initial formation, on the special attention to be given to the awareness of being disciples, and on the need to understand the call to ministry and priestly life as a continuous configuration to Christ.”[liii] Using the image of the vine and the branches Jesus makes it clear that in order to experience the fruits of the true and beautiful humanity that is, love, peace and joy, the disciples have to fall in love with him: “Abide in me as I abide in you”.[liv]Like the true lovers contemplate their profound union of hearts in their each heart beat, they are asked to contemplate him night and day. Paul explains to his listeners what does it mean by falling in love with Jesus Christ: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”[lv] Abide in Jesus means to be totally transformed into him. The fullest expression of his love for Christ we read in the Letter to the Galatians: “… it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”[lvi]This will make them a living reflection of the humanity of Jesus and a bridge that unites people with God.[lvii]

While speaking on the theological formation of the candidates, the Document states: “This configuration demands that the seminarian enter profoundly into the contemplation of the person of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, sent as Shepherd of the People of God. It will make the relationship with Christ more intimate and personal and, at the same time, will lead to an awareness and an assumption of priestly identity”.[lviii]The essential aspect of the priest that does not change is that “the priest of tomorrow, no less than the priest of today, must resemble Christ.[lix]Jesus wished that the disciples are to be with him for a period of time and they are to be transformed into him. In this time they receive the benefit of a catechesis that is deeper than the teaching he gives to the people.[lx] To the mob, for example, he spoke in parables. The mob is a collection of people with diverse interests and diverse mental wavelength without proper orientation in common. Therefore, he spoke to them in parables leaving them to understand the meaning later. He, rather, interpreted the parables to his disciples who were called to be with him, to whom he proposed a specific orientation. When the disciples grew into a particular level, he began to speak to them face to face without parables. Among the disciples, there was a core group of Peter, James and John to whom he shared the deep recesses of his heart.

Pope John Paul II says that the seminary “should be a spiritual place, a way of life, an atmosphere that fosters and ensures a process of formation, so that the person who is called to the priesthood by God may become, with the Sacrament of Orders, a living image of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church”.[lxi] A seminary is the school of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to live in the seminary means to follow Christ, to learn from him to be meek and humble of heart. Pope Benedict XVI said that an apostle, even before he is sent, is to be an expert on Jesus.[lxii]

  1. A Practical Theology oriented to the Contextualized Culture

In his article Enrico Pepe states that there was a time when the seminarians were open to the cultural, religious and social life of the people and the culture was not hostile to religion. But the French revolution overturned the traditional life of the Church and it brought about a profound transformation in the life of the clergy. ‘In the face of this onslaught the seminary changed from its original open stance to a closed one and distanced itself from society in order to protect candidates for priesthood from the negative influences of the world. Separation from urban life often became geographical as well. In remote surroundings the students came to be formed in a strict discipline which did not always value personal initiative. Dialogue with modern culture was found difficult in a Neo-Scholastic theology and as a result the religion turned to be individualistic. Seminaries entered into a period of stagnation while things around them changed very rapidly.[lxiii]

The missionaries, who were shocked by the consequences of the French revolution, introduced the same closed system of seminary formation in the new mission territories. Being aware of its weaknesses Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, in its Charter of Priestly Formation said: “Since effective pastoral action presupposes a close knowledge of the contemporary human situation and of the society to which the Church has to address herself the insights of the Human Sciences will constitute an indispensable input in pastoral theology”.[lxiv]In the Document of the Congregation for Clergy we read that special attention is to be given to the vocations among indigenous people that they need a formation which takes account of their culture. It affirms that the candidates shall not be uprooted from their culture and that their culture must be adequately respected.[lxv]Appropriate involvement in all the cultural realities of a society with all its complex problems make the candidates up to date[lxvi] to address them with an effective pastoral discernment.[lxvii]

In the Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, we read that Pastoral or practical theology ‘is a scientific reflection on the Church as she is built up daily, by the power of the Spirit, in history. It is not just an art, nor is it a set of exhortations, experiences and methods. It receives from the faith the principles and criteria for the pastoral action of the Church in history, a Church that each day begets the Church herself. Among these principles and criteria one that is especially important is that of the evangelical discernment of the socio-cultural and ecclesial situation in which the particular pastoral action has to be carried out.[lxviii]When we analyze the socio-cultural and religious context in Kerala we can understand that the pastoral challenge that a parish in Kerala confronts is the dichotomy between the faith that the Church wants to proclaim and the faith of the people. The popular Catholic faith of the people in Kerala is a faith based on fear and compulsion which is professed most often with material motives. The parish most often promote this type of faith to maintain the mob in the Church and not to offend the religious sentiments of the believers. But the high degree of education and a secular culture that is fast developing in Kerala demand a change in the mode of pastoral approach.[lxix]

To theologize in a multi-cultural and multi-religious context in India with drastic socio-economic disparity is a complex task. This complexity is very much visible in the perspectives of the theologians in India. This is true also in their theological responses to the ever growing popular religiosity in India. There are some who, with a rationalistic bend of mind, are inclined to brand the popular devotions as sentimental and emotional. Some others consider popular religiosity as the expression of religious sentiments of particular cultures. They say that the Church should deal with the particular expressions of faith respecting the cultural identity of the people. In general the theologians in India are preoccupied with a thought of arriving at a common understanding among all the religions to create a healthy living together of the people of various religions. They are taken up with the existential concerns of common people and tend to promote a definition of religion for this worldly life without forgetting the transcendental dimensions.[lxx]Since the popular religion is a contextualized expression of the religious sentiments of the people, it reflects the day to day life of the people and the nature around them. God is presented not as an abstract being but as one who is near, who is involved with the people and the world. As a result it responds to all the aspects of human life.[lxxi] The poor and the helpless are provided with a ‘distinctively this – worldly spirituality’.[lxxii]

Felix Wilfred do not accept a categorical differentiation between official religion and popular religion. To consolidate his argument he speaks of the religious ambient of Hinduism where “the popular practices are looked as part of the same religion”.[lxxiii] He also speaks of the Roman Catholic tradition which accepted some of the popular devotions as the part of the official Liturgy. What he wants to say is that, according to him, the social, economic and political surroundings have a determining role in the formation of the religious sentiments in the people. The popular devotions, with an intention to confront the day to day life of the people, flourish among the people who struggle to make their both ends meet, whereas, sophisticated worship forms are relished by the privileged minority. Therefore he says, “As long as the difference in the life style and exercise of power between people and the clergy exist, there will continue to be also a difference in the perception of the divine and the expression of faith”.[lxxiv]

The Congregation for the Clergy in its Document on priestly formation says that ‘in listening closely, respectfully and without prejudice, the pastor becomes able to read the lives of others without being superficial or prejudicial. He can enter into the heart of the faithful and into the context of life that conditions their behavior. The pastor will be able to interpret with wisdom and understanding all those that influence the lives of the faithful. He learns how to offer spiritual and pastoral possibilities that are attainable and that respond to their lives and to the socio-cultural context in which they live. The constant contemplation of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who seek out, walks alongside and leads his sheep, will enable a pastor in the Church to arrive at a prudent and compassionate outlook. He can exercise his ministry with a calm, open and attentive accompaniment in all situations showing the beauty and demands of the Gospel values without falling into legalism and rigorist obsessions. The pathways of faith are to be presented in a way acceptable and comprehensible. A pastor who is incarnated well in a context will be always compassionate and kind like Jesus and witness the motherly face of the Church including everyone in his pastoral care.’[lxxv]

The religious ambient of popular devotions can be said to be a unique place where the Church encounters people with some religious sentiments in spite of the mounting secularism and atheism in Kerala. An effective pastoral care is the urgent need of the hour to help these people to grow in faith and discover the true meaning and significance of Christian life that will powerfully challenge the false presumptions of secularism and atheism. When we look into the pastoral history of the Church we can know that the Catholic popular devotions, with their remarkable pastoral realism and zeal, have made the people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism.[lxxvi] The pastoral charity demands the pastors that they should use these popular devotions to orient the people for a true encounter with God in and through Jesus Christ.[lxxvii] Pope Benedict XVI says, “The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily.”[lxxviii] The Gospel of Christ, which has always the characteristics of the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ dimensions of the faith life, must be the measure against which all the expressions of Christian piety must be evaluated.[lxxix]

The people in Kerala who gather around the centers of popular devotions in search of some consolation and remedy for their existential problems of life are not disposed to some dry teachings but to a person who express concern and care to them like Jesus Christ. However, with great apostolic zeal, the world famous compassionate Pope, John Paul II appealed to the people, who are in constant pilgrimage to various centers of popular devotions and to the various charismatic groups: ‘In the name of Jesus, I exhort the young people who belong to them, their leaders, and the priests who devote the best part of their ministry to them: no matter what it costs, do not allow these groups – which are exceptional occasions for meeting others, and which are blessed with such riches of friendship and solidarity among the young, of joy and enthusiasm, of reflection on events and facts – do not allow them to lack serious study of Christian doctrine. If they miss the profundity and maturity of Christian faith, they will be in danger – a danger that has unfortunately proved only too real – of disappointing their members and also the Church’.[lxxx]

The people are to be asked to make a profound study on the mystery of Christ so that they may come to the joy of hope that Jesus proclaimed. On the Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states on what purpose the Pope declared the Year of Faith: “The Year of Faith is intended to contribute to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the Church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the Risen Lord in the world of today […].”[lxxxi] The document also recommends to propagate devotions to the local Saints and the blessed as authentic witnesses of the Christian faith.[lxxxii]The candidates to priesthood are called to assimilate the religious consciousness of the faithful in the context and then address it with the Spirit of the Gospel for its transformation.

  1. Ongoing Formation: Constitutive Element of the Sacrament of Order

Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil said that there is much disharmony between the theoretical knowledge and the practical life style of the candidates for priesthood in Kerala. It seems that there is no proper integration of the priestly ideas and values as envisaged by the Church in the life of many candidates even after the long years of seminary formation.[lxxxiii] Karl Rahner is of the opinion that since the individual sciences, including the theological sciences, have found such an extension of their problems, materials and complexity of their methods that the individual man can only know something about less and less, since he understands more and more about less and less. It is no longer possible for the young theological student to construct a fundamental theology for himself for which he could be held responsible. As a result, the personal spiritual life of a student is not very much influenced by the study of theology in the initial stages. The study is most often simply a hurdle of things to be learnt, a hurdle which one has to pass in order to be admitted to Orders. It is a super structure and not a formation. It is a training for some structural fulfillment and not for a formation of the student’s religious personality.[lxxxiv]

There is a disproportion between the average intellectual level and the science which is offered to the young theologian. Therefore he is not really able to cope with it taking into account what it is and what he is. The candidates for the priesthood need not be the best people in terms of intelligence, commitment and generosity.[lxxxv]According to Karl Rahner although it is not right to say that the theological formation of the future priests must be ‘merely practical’ yet ‘the young theologians are not offered that scientific knowledge which he will need for his pastoral work in the furute’.[lxxxvi]The fundamental and dogmatic theology prepare a future priest how to theologize in general and the study of the context proper to one pastor proposes clues to formulate a practical theology without losing the fundamentals of theology. Daniel Acharuparambil also states that the most important challenge of the Church today is that of the proper formation of the clergy. It is not just the academic formation that we must plan about but above all the spiritual and the pastoral formation.[lxxxvii]

In Pastores dabo vobis we see how the Synod Fathers are convinced about the need for ongoing formation since, they say, faithfulness to the priestly ministry is a process of continual conversion.[lxxxviii] It also states that ‘ongoing formation is a duty, in the first instance, for the young priests’.[lxxxix] In the Document of the Congregation for the Clergy we see nine paragraphs dedicated to the discourse on the ongoing formation.[xc] It starts by stating that the term ‘ongoing formation’ is a reminder that the experience of discipleship is not finished with a particular period of time. The priest learns to know Jesus Christ gradually by a continuous configuration to Him through the action of the Holy Spirit.[xci] To assert the importance of the ongoing formation Karl Rahner speaks about the ‘renewal of Priestly Ordination’. He says that every sacrament is a symbolic manifestation of a process of encounter between God and man by grace. What happens between God and man in the sacrament can happen also in the intimacy of the heart where God’s self-communicating goodness and man’s believing and humble receptivity meet each other. Thus Rahner says that the intensity of the sacrament of the Order should be felt anew everyday not in the sign but in the truly present reality of what is signified.[xcii]


It is important to know that the candidates to priesthood are to have a constant contact with the context in which they are to do their pastoral ministry and be incarnated into it. An analysis of the religious, social and political organization of the human community in Kerala reveals how it is rich with its unity for the human causes despite its diversities in various spheres. A pastor who is called to make Jesus present in the Church in Kerala has to contemplate and formulate a theological response which the spirit of the Gospel generates in him. A humanistic pastoral approach of Jesus which constantly challenged the rigorist legalism of pharisaic egocentric religiosity is to illuminate the pastors of the Church in Kerala. The strong responses of Jesus against all types of unjust religious and social stratifications, oppression and exploitation must resound in the life and teachings of the pastors so that they do justice to their vocation to priesthood according to order of the Master and Shepherd, Jesus. To renew and update the personal preparation of the pastor is a constitutive element of the sacrament of Order.


[i]   D. J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 1991, 421.

[ii]   Ibid.

[iii]   Ibid. 422.

[iv]   Ibid.

[v]   V. Panikkassery,  Kerala Charithra Padanangal (Malayalam), Current Books, Kerala 1998, 117-118.

[vi]   S. M. Alappat, Cultural Heritage of Kerala, D. C. Books, Kerala 2008, 20.

[vii]   Ibid. 21.

[viii]   S. N. Elankulam Manakkal, History, Society and Land Relations, 2010, 128.

[ix]   K. Chaithanya, – P. Pillai (tr.), Keralam (Malayalam), National Book Trust, New Delhi 1996, 72-73.

[x]   S. M. Alappat, Cultural Heritage of Kerala, 2008, 255.

[xi]   The meanings of these Malayalam words are: Myth, History, Society.

[xii]   R. Gurukkal, Myth Charithram Samooham (Malayalam), Prasakthi Book House, Kerala 2009, 67.

[xiii]   Ibid. 74-75.

[xiv]   From the close of the 13th century, Dominican and Franciscan, and later Jesuit missionaries began to arrive in South India, in A. M. Mundadan, History of Christianity in India. Vol. 1, From the Beginning up to the Middle of the 16th Century (up to 1542), Theological Publications in India, Bangalore 1984, 120-121.

[xv]  W. Fernandes, “The Missionary Background of Popular Devotions”, in  P. Puthanangady (ed.), Popular   Devotions in India: Research Seminar, NBCLC Bangalore 1986, 123.

[xvi]   P. Karachira, “An Attitudinal study of Popular Devotions”, in P. Puthanangady (ed.), Popular Devotions in India: Research Seminar, NBCLC, Bangalore 1986, 319.

[xvii]   Ibid. 322-323.

[xviii]   J. Palatty, Charismatic Naveekaranam Alakum Pidiyum (Malayalam), Emmaus Publications, Kalamassery, Kerala 1991, 39.

[xix]  K. C. B. C. Episcopal Advisor, Catholic Charismatic Naveekaranam Marganirdeshangal (Malayalam), Kerala Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, Kerala 2004, 9-10.

[xx]   P. Puthanangady, “The spread of Charismatic Movement today and the revival of Fundamentalism”, (1992), 277.

[xxi]   Pastores dabo vobis # 55.

[xxii]   This concept dates back to ancient Mesopotamian religions… in https://en.m.wikipedia.org ,Seven Heavens visited  on 06-11-2017.

[xxiii]   Isaiah 63, 17.

[xxiv]   Ibid. 64, 1-2.

[xxv]   Matthew 11, 28.

[xxvi]   John 13, 4-15.

[xxvii]   Mark 10, 43-45.

[xxviii]   J. C. Manalel, “Popular Devotions and Authentic Christianity”, in P. Puthanangady (ed.), Popular Devotions in India:  Research Seminar, NBCLC, Bangalore 1986, 589.

[xxix]   “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6, 46-49. A similar message we can read in Matthew 7, 21-23: “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven’.”

[xxx]   Mark 1, 21-28; 29-31; 3, 1-6; John 5, 1-18; 9, 1-16; Luke 13, 10-17; 14, 1-6.

[xxxi]   Mark 2, 27.

[xxxii]   John 5, 16-17.

[xxxiii]   J. C. Manalel, “Popular Devotions and Authentic Christianity”, 1986, 589.

[xxxiv]  L. Legrand, “Jesus and the Popular Religion of his Times”, in P. Puthanangady (ed.), Popular Devotions in India:  Research Seminar, NBCLC, Bangalore 1986, 298.

[xxxv]   Ibid.

[xxxvi]   Acts of the Apostles 23, 8.

[xxxvii]   L. Legrand, “Jesus and the Popular Religion of his Times”, 1986, 299.

[xxxviii]   Exod 22, 17; Deut 19, 9-10; Lev 20, 6-27.

[xxxix]   Deuteronomy 16, 16.

[xl]   For example, we read in the Gospel of John 6, 26-66, how Jesus encountered the people who were taken up by and searching for the things of the world. He was so plain and clear that some people left him and never went about him.

[xli]   L. Legrand, “Jesus and the Popular Religion of his Times”, 1986, 302.

[xlii]   Cf. Luke 18, 1; Rom 12, 12; 1Thes 5, 17.

[xliii]   Cf. 1Cor 10, 31; 1Thes 2, 13; Col 3, 17.

[xliv]   Congregation For Divine Worship And The Discipline Of Sacraments, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, L R C Publications, Kochi 2002, 18-19.

[xlv]   Matthew 9, 35-36.

[xlvi]   Matthew 18, 12-14.

[xlvii]   Matthew 20, 24-28.

[xlviii]   Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican City 2016, # 89.

[xlix]   Ibid. #179.

[l]   John 1, 38.

[li]   John 1, 35.

[lii]   Romans 12, 2.

[liii]  Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, Introduction, n. 3. We read in the paragraph 57 that the initial formation is subdivided into “the ‘propaedeutic stage’, ‘the stage of philosophical studies’ or ‘discipleship stage’, the stage of theological studies’ of ‘configuration stage’, and the ‘pastoral stage’ or ‘stage of vocational synthesis’.

[liv]   John 15, 4.

[lv]   2Chorinthians 5, 17.

[lvi]   Gal 2, 20.

[lvii]  Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, # 63. “Each day he learns how to enter into the secrets of the Kingdom of God, living a deep relationship with Jesus. Staying with Christ becomes a pedagogical-spiritual journey, that transforms the life of the seminarian and bears witness to his love in the world.” #61.

[lviii]   Ibid. # 68.

[lix]   John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, Apostolic Exhortation, 1992, # 5.

[lx]   Ibid. # 42.

[lxi]   Ibid.

[lxii]   Benedict XVI, Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2007, 13.

[lxiii]  E. Pepe, “Priestly Formation in the History of the Church. A Historical Inquiry into the Relationship between Spirituality and priestly formation”,  in, M. Mulvey (Ed.), Priests of the Future. Formation and Communion, New City Press, New York 1991, 17-18.

[lxiv]  Catholic Bishops’ Conference Of India (Commision for Clergy and Religious), Charter of Priestly Formation for India, 1988, 3.2.4.e.

[lxv]  Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, # 25.


[lxvi]   Ibid. # 84. C.

[lxvii]   Ibid. # 120.

[lxviii]   Ibid. # 57.

[lxix]  Pope John Paul II has said strong words of caution against the phenomenon of secularism. “The present-day phenomenon of secularism is truly serious not simply as regards the individual, but in some ways as regards whole communities, as the Council has already indicated: ‘Growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice.’ At other times I myself have recalled the phenomenon of de-Christianization which strikes long-standing Christian people and which continually calls for a re-evangelization.” John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, Apostolic Exhortation, 1988, # 4.

[lxx]  J. Vazhakoottathil, The Catholic Popular Devotions in Kerala. Theological Perspectives, Jyotir Dharma Publications, Kerala, 2013, 127-128.

[lxxi]   M. Amaladoss, Walking Together. The Practice of Inter-Religious Dialogue, 1992, 93.

[lxxii]   M. Amaladoss, Beyond Inculturation. Can the Many be One? ISPCK, Delhi 1998, 114.

[lxxiii]  F. Wilfred, “Faith without ‘Faith’? Popular Religion – A Challenge to Elitist Theology and Liturgy”, in P. Puthanangady (ed.), Popular Devotions in India:  Research Seminar, NBCLC, Bangalore 1986, 595.

[lxxiv]   Ibid. 597.

[lxxv]  Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, # 120.


[lxxvi]   Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic Exhortation,1975, # 48.

[lxxvii]   Ibid.                                                                                                                         

[lxxviii]   Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, Apostolic Exhortation, 2010, # 59.

[lxxix]  J. Vazhakoottathil, “Catholic Popular Devotions in Kerala. A Pastoral Challenge”, in Mission Today 13, 3 (2011), 280.

[lxxx]    John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, Apostolic Exhortation, 1979, # 47.

[lxxxi]   Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith, with the Attachment, Motu Proprio Porta Fidei, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2012, 9.

[lxxxii]   Ibid. 18.

[lxxxiii]  D. Acharuparambil, “Renewal of Priestly Formation”, in J. Panakal (Ed.), Pastoral charity in the Third Millennium, Carmelgiri Seminary Publications, Aluva, 1999, 22.

[lxxxiv]   K. Rahner, Theological Investigations, vol. 6, 114-118.

[lxxxv]  G. Manalel, “Priests in India: Psychotheological Formation”, in T. Paul (Ed.), Priestly Formation in India. For the Ministry in the Twentyfirst Century, Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye, 1996, 158.

[lxxxvi]   K. Rahner, Theological Investigations, vol. 6, 122.

[lxxxvii]   D. Acharuparambil, “Renewal of Priestly Formation”, 22.

[lxxxviii]   Pastores dabo vobis # 71.

[lxxxix]   Ibid. 76.

[xc]   Congregation For The Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly vocation. Ratio Fondamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, 80-88.

[xci]   Ibid. # 80.

[xcii]  K. Rahner, Theological Investigations, vol. 3, 173.

Author: Dr. John Vazhakoottathil OCD