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Catholic Church in India hits out at potential communion wine ban
27 August 2014 13:17 by Liz Dodd

The Church in India has hit back at attempts to ban wine at Mass as part of a drive to enforce prohibition in one of the country’s most Christian states.

The country’s Congress-led Government intends to enforce prohibition in Kerala, the southernmost state in India, within 10 years. Over the next few months hundreds of bars and shops will be shut and additional “alcohol-free” days enforced. Kerala, which has India’s highest per capita alcohol consumption, has the highest Christian population of any state in India.

The General Secretary of the Hindu organisation SNDP Yogam, Vellappally Natesan, has called for the ban to extend to churches, while Bishop Mar Chrysostom of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church said that churches should consider using grape juice at Mass.

But the Archbishop of Verapoy, Francis Kallarackal, said that Mass without wine was “unthinkable”. “It will remain unchanged until the world ends,” he told the New India Express.

The Bishop of Central Kerala in the Church of South India, Thomas K Oommen, agreed, saying that extending the ban to churches misinterpreted the Government’s policy.

“The people have the common sense to discern what is right and what is wrong. There are many medicines that have alcohol content in them. Could we ban them also in the name of implementing total ban on alcohol?” he said.

Bishop Mathews Mar Severios, Synod secretary of the Orthodox Church, said that wine used at Mass was not strong enough to cause drunkenness, adding: “Even if you drink a full bottle of Mass wine it will not intoxicate you.”

His remarks were echoed by a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr Paul Thelakkattu, who said that a tiny quantity of wine was used at Mass and that this was a global practice.

V M Sudheeran, the head of the Congress party in Kerala, has so far rejected calls for a ban, saying that the use of wine in churches is a centuries-old tradition and should not be banned.