Religion News in Brief

13 Oct
As numbers shrink, Roman Catholic church in India urges flock to have more children

NEW DELHI — 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.

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 percent this year, down from 19.5 percent 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 realized 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.

The state’s Muslim population grew by 1.7 percent between 1991 and 2001, while the Hindu and Christian populations have fallen.

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Church officials bless benefactors as new shepherds of struggling Philly Catholic school

PHILADELPHIA — An independent group of benefactors announced an agreement Tuesday to take over a struggling Roman Catholic school from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, pledging to keep its religious identity while making it financially sustainable for generations to come.

The new arrangement — the first of its kind in the archdiocese — transfers responsibility for the St. Martin de Porres elementary school from the church to a lay board of directors.

Board members want to ensure St. Martin’s continued existence and affordability in North Philadelphia, where many public schools are considered unsafe and academically deficient.

“We are not simply just giving support to a school, we are giving support to a neighborhood and the families who call this parish and its school home,” board chairman Jack Donnelly said.

Church officials, who have shuttered more than 30 cash-strapped schools in the archdiocese over the past five years, applauded the agreement. Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior said at Tuesday’s ceremonial signing event that he hopes it can be replicated at other strained schools.

Similar arrangements have saved parochial schools in other U.S. cities. Catholic education nationwide has suffered for years from the double whammy of rising costs and dwindling enrollment, forcing tuition hikes that make the schools increasingly unaffordable. Shifting demographics and the rise of charter schools also have siphoned off students.

The archdiocese has 178 schools serving about 68,000 students, which represents a 35 percent drop in enrollment since 2001.

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