Although he is from a world far removed from ours in both miles and cultural characteristics, Father Gregory Tigga, who prefers to be addressed as simply Father Greg, has a message with universal appeal.
Father Greg, who will be making his home at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Marceline for the next several years, believes that the two most important Christian values/goals are the “preservation of human dignity” and the “prohibition against killing.” He smiles when I refer to the stereotype of India as a nation of starving masses who nonetheless refuse to slaughter the garland-adorned cattle that roam the streets freely. While Father Greg readily acknowledges the widespread hunger and malnutrition in India, he tends to focus on what his people have rather than what they lack. “We can slaughter chickens, goats and pigs,” he informs me patiently. (Patience, I quickly learn, comes to him easily).
Although Father Greg and I didn’t discuss the subject at any length, India’s Hindus abstain from eating beef—especially milk producing cows—for both spiritual and practical reasons. Although bulls were traditionally sacrificed as part of a Vedic religious ritual, doing so was expensive. The prohibition against slaughtering cows is based partly upon the many products they provide (i.e., milk, curds, dried dung and browned butter for fuel), as well as the Hindu belief that killing a cow is equivalent to killing a brahman or high priest. Furthermore, cows are seen as gentle spirits to be treated as family members and referred to as Devis, which literally translates to ‘goddesses.’
As to the international violence Hindus wouldn’t dream of inflicting upon a dairy cow, Father Greg largely blames materialism. “When people place so much value upon things,” he explains, “they lose the value of human life.” The Catholic Priest from northern India adds, “Materialism is dominant now, especially in the developed nations, but it will never provide real satisfaction. We need to come back to ourselves and live for one another.” Father Greg explains that in his tribe, the Oraon, everything is shared equally. When I chuckle and tell him that some Americans would call that socialism, he responds earnestly, “We call that an expression of peace, love and happiness” and adds, “Unless I give love, I can not receive love.” Father Greg is, appropriately, in the U.S. as an expression of international brotherhood and as part of a program designed to share church personnel across the globe. Unfortunately, just as there is violence spawned by fear, prejudice and pride in America, attacks upon the Christan minority by the Hindu majority in India have marred their otherwise peaceful coexistence. Even though Indian law prohibits trying to convert any citizen to any religion other than the one he has chosen, and Christians only make up two percent of India’s population, persecution of Christians continues. (Ironically, it was persecution that spurred the early Christian Church to grow.) “People are wary of us,” says Father Greg. “They think we’ll force Christianity upon them.” Unlike Western missionaries who historically, and very aggressively, sought out converts in India, especially among shunned ‘untouchables,’ Catholic priests like Father Greg are more interested in how we can learn how to accept one another and live in harmony. “We must discover how much we are alike,” urges Marceline’s newest resident.