Special Correspondent

"It may affect the sanctity of Christian places of worship" Archbishop of Madurai says there will be procedural problems in extending the scheme to a few places of worship

MADURAI: The Tamil Nadu Bishops' Council has appealed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa not to extend the annadhanam scheme to Roman Catholic churches, saying it may violate peace and sanctity in the Christian places of worship.

In a statement issued here on Saturday, Peter Fernando, Archbishop of Madurai, who is also president of the council, said a token distribution of food for a few persons round the year at government expense was not part of Catholic tradition. Even occasional distribution of food for the poor should be done with contributions from devotees, and it would not be meaningful to do it with government funding.

Rev. Fernando said there would be procedural problems in extending the scheme to a few places of worship, as it might create unnecessary heartburns in villages. Choosing a few churches and leaving out the others might also create unwanted divisions. Worship would become meaningless if there was no difference between those who came to church to pray and those who visited to get food.

The council apprehended that the extension of the scheme might result in government interference in church affairs. Hence, it urged the Chief Minister not to extend the scheme to the Roman Catholic churches and instead provide essential commodities to orphanages, student hostels and homes for children, aged, handicapped and visually impaired run by the church. The Government could also consider sanctioning education grant for 200 Tamil medium schools, started by the church after 1991, which did not receive any grant. Rural students studying in these schools found it difficult to pay fees, and it was also a financial burden for the church.