Though raised as a Catholic to parents of the faith , Mr. G Shiju, a native of Uzhuva village in Alappuzha district of Kerala has not been a regular churchgoer. But his parents were regular church attendees and had never relinquished their faith in the Catholic Church. Shiju’s mother, MP Leelamma, was an avowed catholic . And after retiring from government service as a teacher she worked for free at the local church school. Tragedy first struck his family on September 3rd when Shiju came home and found his mother dead. He went to the St. Ann’s parish Church ,Uzhuva to inform about the death in the family and requested for a church funeral. The priest at the parish, Fr P A Antony and an associate of his demanded from Shiju, a written apology for his continued absence from the church, to allow his mother to have a church funeral. Shiju was not willing for this, and felt that this amounted to an unfair bargain. He rejected their offer and went back home.
‘I waiting with my mother’s corpse till late in the evening. Losing hope of resolving the issue with the church, I decided for a Hindu burial for mother. By the time the church authorities showed up, it was too late, and I had already made the arrangements’ says Shiju. The funeral was finally carried out with ‘Shanti Kriya’, usually a Hindu ritual. A month after losing his mother, tragedy struck his family again, as his bedridden father, Advocate. George Chenattu, succumbed to death. This time around, the parish decided to make up for its mistake, and was willing to administer a Catholic funeral for the deceased. They expressed their wish to offer “Office for the dead” (locally known as ‘opissu’), a prayer said for the repose of the soul of a decedent. Shiju rejected their offer for a funeral for his father at the church cemetery , and decided to follow the course he had taken after his mother’s death. Like he did for his Mother, he gave his father a Hindu burial and was cremated at house premises .
Catholic church follows the Canon law to decide on funeral rites, and the law says that the ‘Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law’. Catholic funerals, known as Ecclesiastical funerals, the Church seeks spiritual support for the deceased, honors their bodies, and at the same time brings the solace of hope to the living.Though the laws of church is not ambiguous on these matters, it is a common practise in many parishes to use marriages and funerals as an occasion to enforce some discipline among its members, restoration of faith being one among them. This is a case of one such disciplinary strategy going bad and ending up as a tragedy.
Father Paul Thelakkat, a Spokesperson for the Syro Malabar Church, as response to this incident, opined that the local priest cannot deny a church funeral for a faithful on the basis of their children’s faith or lack of it. He felt that the fact that this mother was a regular attendee should have taken precedence in this. But at the same time he also expressed his disappointment with Shiju’s subsequent rejections.
Shiju has vowed to fight this injustice and Advocate Polachan Puthuppara filed a case for defamation on his behalf He has the backing of some organizations within the Catholic community like the Kerala Catholic federation and the Kerala Catholic Association for Justice.