By ACNS staff
Churches in India’s southern Kerala state have given a mixed response to government proposals for a total prohibition of alcohol within 10 years.
While Christian leaders have welcomed the ban, which will be gradually phased in over the next decade, some are concerned at calls for Communion wine to be included.
Bishop of the Church of South India’s South Kerala Diocese Dharmaraj Rasalam told the Financial Times, “There are so many drunkards in our society - it is a grave concern among the people. It is very good to abolish alcohol from this land. They cannot stop it in a day, a week or a month, but the Church is supporting the government to get rid of all these things.”
However, there have been calls from some quarters for the Church to come under the ban and replace all its Communion wine with non-alcoholic substitutes.
ucanews.com reported that Vellapally Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, a Hindu political group, demanded the government cancel 23 licenses issued to Catholic dioceses, religious orders and other Christian groups to produce Mass wine.
The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Verapoly Dr Francis Kallarackal had earlier stated that wine was integral to mass being concelebrated by Christians all over the world and so could not be banned.
Syro Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelekat told PTI, "No church uses anything other than wine. We will continue the tradition," he said.
Thomas K Oommen, bishop of the Central Kerala diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) told the New Indian Express that “It [Communion with wine] will remain unchanged until the world ends,” adding that calling for Communion wine to be included in the alcohol ban was not a proper interpretation of a decision "that could contribute to the cultural advancement of society".
However, Bishop Philiphose Mar Chrysostom of the indigenous Mar Thoma Syrian Church told ucanews.com, “Churches should think about using grape water, as had been the practice in the past, instead of wine".
Speaking to the media on Monday, V M Sudheeran, the President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) said the call to ban wine in churches was not appropriate considering it had been part of centuries-old ritual and tradition.
“It is for the Christian church to think over whether liquor should be banned. The interference of external forces is not proper."
Keralans consume the highest amount of alcohol of any state in India and temperance groups have been pressing for a total ban to address a alcohol abuse problem across the state.
There are those who have criticised the move , however, saying that it will be a very bad decision for the tourist industry in a state that welcomes around 800,000 visitors a year.