Thiruvananthapuram: In a rather strange move, the Catholic Church in Kerala has formed its own 'army' comprising retired military and paramilitary men. The army, called Gabriel Sena, is named after the Biblical angel Gabriel, who is considered God's messenger and one of the seven guardian angels.
Though the church has said that there is no communal agenda, the faithfuls are worried that the Sena may be used against them during protests over issues that have shown the priests in poor light.
In the current situation where churches have been fighting among themselves for supremacy and to gain control of properties and a series of sex scandals rocking 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.
The church says that the Gabriel Sena is mainly to control crowds. But that does not sound convincing considering the fact that the churches do not witness a surge in crowd at any point of time except during festivals.
During festivals, voluntary groups have been doing a commendable job in controlling crowds, hence sources say there is something beyond the move to set up a Sena.
The timing is also suspect. The Sena has been set up at a time when protests are being held by the faithful against priests and those wielding power over issues like sexual harassment of nuns and illegal property deals.
Just 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. A highly powerful and influential cardinal, he was involved in a massive illegal land deal.
In another case, after sustained pressure from a group of nuns and a section of the laity, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar diocese was arrested for allegedly raping a nun.
Of late there have been skirmishes between the laity and the bishops in power over various issues including vindictive transfers of nuns. Just this week, a group of college students held a protest after a Father pulled up a girl for ignoring him.
But Gabriel Sena director Fr Mathew Ashariparambil was quoted in the Indian Express as saying that the retired military and paramilitary men should become “guardians of faith and warriors of ideals.”
Ashariparambil categorically denied any 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 was quoted.
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.