Bombay, India, Dec. 11 - A High Court ruling may force two Churches - The Holy Family Church and OLPS Church in Chembur - to conduct a Midnight Christmas Mass without loudspeakers. The reason: the two churches are close to schools.
A Sept. 26 Bombay High Court ruling prohibits the use of loudspeakers in the silent zone, which includes educational institutions, courts, hospitals and religious places.
While Holy Family Church says it may conduct the mass without loudspeakers, OLPS claims it has permission to use loudspeakers till 10 pm. Churches not in the silent zone can continue the Dec 24 midnight mass till 11.30 pm.
Father Anthony Cardozo of OLPS Church says, "On Christmas, we have the mass in the ground and we have permission to use loudspeakers till 10 pm." The Chembur police station, however, denies having granted permisison to OLPS for use of loudspeakers in the ground.
The Tilak Nagar police, in whose jurisdiction Holy Family Church falls, say they are simply following the high court order. Says a cop, "It is true that the school is not in session at night so loudspeakers will not disturb students. But the high court judgment says loudspeakers should not be used within 100 metres of an educational institution. It is really how we interpret the law."
Like Holy Family and OLPS, several schools run by Christian missions have a church in same premises.
The interpretation of the order surely does not help Father Donald Rodrigues of Holy Family Church, who has to address a crowd of 1,500 devotees on Christmas Eve, almost double the crowd of 800 it attracts for a Sunday mass. "Our church has a capacity to seat 800 people. On Christmas Eve, we usually conduct the mass in the ground and use loudspeakers for the service," says Father Rodrigues.
"The court has given every community a day to use loudspeakers. For Christians, it is Dec 25 — the day of Christmas. But our church is not being granted the permission to use loudspeakers as it is next to the school," says Rodrigues. In fact, Holy Family Church went without loudspeakers for the Feast of Christ The King on Nov 23. "The church did not get permission for loudspeakers for the procession and prayers and they had to make do with megaphones," he says.
"We filed an applications requesting permission to use loudspeakers in Nov but the request was turned down. The Tilak Nagar police have asked us to wait for some time," says an optimistic Father Rodrigues, who is hoping the cops may just give in to the church’s persistence. He adds, "We usually have carols at 9.30 pm and the mass begins at 10 pm. By 11.15-11.30 pm we finish everything."
Father Pravin Fernandes, in-charge of public relations of Archdioceses of Bombay, says, "So far we have no intimation regarding the use of loudspeakers, so we are following last year's procedure. We have permission to use loudspeakers till midnight." He adds, "In case of a problem, we usually leave it to the local parish to sort it out with the local police. We could appeal if we get a complaint."
Javed Ahmed, joint commissioner, law and order, says, "The high court order, passed just before Navratri, effectively means that a school will not be able to hold its own programme. The government has decided to appeal this ruling. But we cannot officially give permission for the use of loudspeakers. Anyway, the permissions are given at the level of the local police station and they do not come to me."