In what’s probably a first, the Catholic Church in Kerala has formed a unit of retired military and paramilitary men. Called the Gabriel Sena — the name is a Biblical reference to angel Gabriel, who is considered God’s messenger and one of the seven guardian angels — the group has been formed to help with crowd control.
The Gabriel Sena, launched in the archdiocese of Thalassery in Kannur last month, will hold its first meeting at Taliparamba in Kannur district on November 15.
The launch of the Sena comes at a time when the clergy has come in for questioning from the faithful on a number of issues, from sex scandals to land rows. Recently, a section of the faithful belonging to the archdiocese of Ernakulam had marched to the Cardinal House in Kochi demanding the resignation of Cardinal George Alencherry, who is embroiled in a land row. Last year, the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar diocese, who was accused of raping a nun, came after sustained pressure from a group of nuns and a section of the laity.
Gabriel Sena director Fr Mathew Ashariparambil, who said the retired military and paramilitary men should become “guardians of faith and warriors of ideals”, added that their services would be used mostly for crowd control.
“More than a group, the Sena will be a fellowship of ex-uniformed personnel. We are expecting around 150 people to turn up for our first meeting on November 15, he said, adding that the Sena’s members will be deployed for the first time during a farmers rally to be organised by the church in Kannur in December.
Ashariparambil said the group had no communal agenda and any Catholic was free to join it. “We have urged all ex-uniformed men to join us. Also, those associated with other organisations are free to continue with their engagements while being part of the Sena, he said.
Alexander T, an ex-serviceman who is now a member of the Sena, said he is happy to contribute his services to the church. “We ex-servicemen are a pool of skills. We can work as volunteers for functions and manage church events,” said Alexander, who retired as havildar from the Madras Engineer Group in 2015.
George K, another ex-serviceman associated with the Sena, said that while he was happy to contribute his services to the church, but wasn’t happy about the Sena as a formal grouping. “We church-goers already have our own professional body in which all ex-servicemen are members. If someone seeks our services as volunteers, it is welcome. But I will not be part of the Sena if it is floated as an association or a body, he said.
The Church in Kerala has been organising its laymen on professional grounds, with separate forums for teachers, doctors and Non-Resident Keralites.
When asked for his reaction to the church setting up the Sena, George Joseph, secretary of Joint Christian Council, a body representing laymen, said, “In the present situation, where churches have been fighting among themselves for supremacy and to gain control of properties and churches, the formation of such a Sena is an alarming trend, especially if their services are used to intimidate the faithful who oppose the clergy.”
Recently, the Orthodox and Jacobite churches, both non-Catholic segments, have been fighting for control of several churches in Central Kerala.