Updated: September 26, 2019 3:16:11 pm
The premises of the St Mary’s Church in Piravom in Ernakulam district of Kerala witnessed chaotic and emotional scenes Thursday afternoon as the police arrested senior priests and laity of the Jacobite faction of the Malankara Syrian Christian Church in a bid to evacuate them from the area.
The arrests came after the Kerala High Court came down hard on the Jacobite faction for locking the church gates and disallowing members and priests of the rival Orthodox faction to offer prayers. Both Jacobite and Orthodox factions, with a rivalry stretching back to a century, have claimed ownership of the cathedral in Piravom.
The police and the district administration, under pressure from the High Court to evacuate the protesters belonging to the Jacobite faction and bring normalcy to the area, had to resort to using cutters to open the church gates as the protesters resisted their moves. After the gates were opened, the priests and laity sat down on the ground, vowing not to leave the premises. Finally, after District Collector S Suhas intervened and held conciliatory talks with the church leadership, the Metropolitans agreed to court arrest and asked the laity to do the same.
“The police and the district administration may have their sympathies for us, but their hands are tied. They want us to leave and court arrest. So we have agreed to do the same,” a Metropolitan told the protesters.
But even after the Metropolitan priests courted arrest and trooped into the police van, several other protesters lay on the ground, begging not to be forced to leave. Clasping their hands, they asked the police not to arrest them.
S Suhas, the collector, using a microphone asked them to cooperate, promising them that he would help them.
“Where will we go? We have lost our churches. After we die, where will our bodies be buried? It’s better to shoot and kill us,” one of the protesters told reporters.
The Piravom cathedral, presently controlled by the Jacobite faction, was among over 1100 churches and parishes that were ordered to be handed over to the rival Orthodox faction by the Supreme Court in its July, 2017 verdict. But since then, the church has remained tightly in the grip of the Jacobite faction even as their petitions before the High Court and Supreme Court went on to be dismissed. A majority of the believers in the Piravom cathedral belong to the Jacobite faction.
Both Jacobite and Orthodox groups, who differ in their leadership even as they share the same liturgy (rites of worship), have held a long-standing rivalry that goes back to 1912 when the Malankara Church split into two. While the Orthodox group regards the Malankara Metropolitan as their chief, the Jacobite faction pledges its allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch. Both factions have fought for ownership of the churches and parishes in Kerala for decades. The Supreme Court’s 2017 verdict rested on the 1934 constitution of the Malankara Church which drafted the rules of management of the churches under its control.
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