Worried about its dwindling numbers, the Roman Catholic church in southern India is exhorting its flock to have more children, with some parishes offering free schooling, medical care and even cash bonuses for large families, church officials have said.
The strategy comes as India’s population tops 1.2 billion, making it the second most populous country in the world after China, and runs counter to a national government policy of limiting family size.
But in the southern state of Kerala, where Catholics have long been a large, important minority, church authorities believe the state’s overall Christian population could drop to 17 per cent this year, down from 19.5 per cent in 1991. While they don’t have precise numbers for the Catholic population, they believe it is also dropping sharply.
“The Christian community in Kerala is dwindling. We realised that if the numbers decreased further, it would have a negative impact on the community,” said Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in New Delhi.
Christianity is widely thought to have come to India in the year 52, when St Thomas came to Kerala after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
What remains unsaid in Kerala is that the state’s Muslim population grew by 1.7 per cent between 1991 and 2001, while the Hindu and Christian populations have fallen.
Kerala, once a communist bastion and the state with the highest literacy rate, was about 56 per cent Hindu, 19.5 per cent Christian and 24 per cent Muslim in the last census in 2001.
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