Kerala Church's new prayer: Make babies

NationPrakash Hentry and family outside their house in Kollam. Express

He is a 47-year-old bank officer and she is 43. The Catholic couple in Thrissur, Kerala, have two daughters aged 20 and 16. When the younger one shifted to a hostel for her class XII a year ago, the two, says the husband, felt a sudden emptiness. She started talking about a third child. Age deterred them, as well as the fact that she had undergone tubectomy. But seven months ago, they took the plunge, she underwent reverse tubectomy and they are now awaiting a third child.

Some may chuckle at their decision to have a child at this age but the one place where they will receive a warm reception is their Church.

The Catholic Church that had taken the lead in ensuring family planning in Kerala in the 1960s and '70s — in a departure from its conservative beliefs — is now encouraging members to have four or more children to stem a decline in numbers.

The economically, educationally and politically powerful Catholics form a chunk of the state's 19 per cent Christian population. In fact, the prosperity of Catholics in Kerala has been partially attributed to their early adoption of family planning.

A combination of factors is responsible for the decline in Kerala's Catholic population — the number of Christian migrants to European and American countries, the rise in the number of employed women who decided to limit the number of their offspring and late marriages by the educated.

Such has been the fall in numbers that in several parts, three- or four-formation houses for fresh recruits have been merged due to shortage of novices for nunhood.

Eager that the call for more children should not be seen as a measure to retain numbers, the Church underlines that it's part of its pro-life stance, which extends to objection to abortion. The Church shifted its focus from anti-abortion to promotion of bigger families in early years of the last decade. Later, it started offering incentives to couples begetting four or more children. Now, the family apostolate departments in dioceses have teams to preach the necessity of increasing the community count to every prospective bride and groom.

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