Outsourcing Prayers

Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs in the West are saving money and trouble by sending their worship needs abroad.

BY: Hema Nair

 

A few months ago, when British soccer player David Beckham (of "Bend It Like Beckham" fame) was involved in a tabloid scandal that threatened to disrupt his marriage, a concerned London-based fan decided to pay for a Catholic Mass that would help Mr. Beckham ease his way out of the troubled period.

Unusual? Maybe. But what was really surprising about the Mass was the fact that it was not performed in a local Catholic church or by a local priest. In fact, it was not even said in English. The Mass was said miles and time zones away, in a small Catholic church in the Thrissur district of Kerala, a lush, green state in southwestern India. And it was conducted in Malayalam, the local language of the state.

In March this year, when German racing car driver Michael Schumacher won the Australian Grand Prix, a jubilant German fan wanted a thanksgiving Mass said to celebrate the victory. It was a ceremony he never attended because it was held, again, thousands of miles away, in a country parish in Kerala.

Welcome to the world of outsourced prayers. From Orthodox Christians eager to have faraway Russian monks pray for their souls, to U.S. Hindus arranging for Indian temple rituals without leaving home, believers are finding long-distance ways to fulfill their worship needs.

One example of this is the outsourcing of Catholic Masses to India. Historically, devout Catholics have made donations, usually of a specified sum, for an entire Mass to be said for a particular intention. A parishioner might request the worship service in memory of a departed one, to pray for a sick friend, or in thanksgiving for a favorable outcome.

Currently, requests for such Masses are being collected by priests in European, Canadian and American churches and then communicated through mail, traveling clergy or, increasingly, by e-mail to the numerous churches in the crowded urban streets and emerald paddy fields of Kerala.

Why Kerala? Nearly 23 percent of the state's 30 million total residents are Christians, most of them Catholics, making it one of the densest concentrations of Catholics in India. And one of the largest church organizations in Kerala, the Syro-Malabar church, is rich in priests. It's contributed over 60 percent of India's missionary priests, in spite of forming only 20 percent of the country's total Catholic population.

This concentration of priests is what drives the requests for Masses from overseas, where the shortage of European and American priests has become acute. In the U.S., the lack of priests means there's often a long wait for a special Mass dedicated to a single intention.

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