Thursday, December 15, 2011

A priest demolishes an old, strong church of architectural beauty...........

 I was very much involved with my parish while I was an youngster and many events are still fresh in my memory.  Our church was more than 100 years old. In the late 1970s a young enterprising priest who had the reputation of having rebuilt two old churches, became the new vicar. There were stories that he amassed  wealth in the process and made his relatives rich. Our parish had 910 or so families and they were mostly poor who eked a living by weaving bamboos. About 10 of them could be considered rich and another 20 above poverty line.
The priest was a shrewd guy with lots of energy. During his powerful sermons he ignited the imagination of the poor faithful with the idea of a new modern church.
" This old dilapidating church does not befit you. You deserve a modern church the neighbouring parishes will be envious of. " The old tiled, vaulted church made of heavy timber sections and solid walls could stand another 100 years and there was a strong possibility for it to be considered as a heritage site. But the imagination of the poor faithful were set on fire with the eloquence of the priest and nothing would stop them from having the dream structure they 'deserved' in place of the old. The parish council  simply echoed the wishes of the priest. Rebuilding a new church became the need of the people far more than that of the priest. There were feeble protests about each one's share of the contribution but it was drowned in the overwhelming yes votes. The share of money,  rice, coconuts, bamboo mats, banana, et all to be donated by each family on a weekly basis was decided and volunteer groups of ladies were formed to collect and bring them. The farm produce and rice were auctioned every Sunday and all the cash handed over to the priest. The poor felt they were part of an apocalyptic event  although they had to borrow or starve to set apart their share of weekly contributions.    
The dismantling of the old church began next week itself. . It was all free work done by the people. Some contractor had given the climbing equipment and tools free for the 'holy' work. The priest was adept in getting free help from every quarter in the name of god. But he did not forget to record the cost of each item 'hired' and the Labor charges of 'experts' needed for the demolition. He knew from his previous experience that the vastly uneducated, poor, village folk would never verify his accounts or question him at a later date. After all he was working so 'hard' for rebuilding their own church. Donations were pouring in from far and wide and the priest had a winning smile as collection swelled.
The plan for the church was drawn mostly free of charge by an architect. Sand was taken from the river that flowed by the church compound again by 'free labour by the parishioners', stones were donated by a large contractor and the work progressed without much expenditure. The priest did buy a few items like cement, reinforcing bars, timber for doors and metal for windows and engaged a contractor to do the concreting and steel works. He made the architect incorporate a big dome above the altar ensuring a lot of publicity for the same through the media, church sermons and orally. It was a clever move to raise funds.  The old church's bell tower and a few other structures were untouched to reduce the cost of construction. The priest knew how to spend less and keep accounts to his convenience.
 As the construction progressed, the priest went abroad to get donations from Italy, Europe and USA for the 'noble cause.' He would visit the holy land also. After a month and he returned with  some cash, but not much ( nobody knows how much he collected from the good people there) and he also bought sacks of sand from the holy land (nobody knows from where he collected it)  to sell it for good money for the great cause.

It took two years for the structure to be completed and the poor became poorer and thinner and the priest  fatter and richer. When it was done it did not have window panes and the floor and the walls were unfinished.  There was a big dome and a large hall with a concrete roof and a big cross with Jesus hanging, built with the sweat and the blood of the poor. The more emaciated, haggard-looking people prayed in the unfinished hall in place of a stronger and more valuable old structure. As his mission was accomplished, the priest went to another parish with an old church and he started igniting the imagination of the faithful there of the need of a big new church  they 'deserved.'       

1 comment:

  1. Loved this piece. This practice is commonplace even today. Well written.Congratulations.