Monday, 30th October 2017

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Left and rival in archbishop jostle

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  • Published 17.10.10

New Delhi, Oct. 16: The Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife Jane can expect some private time next week when they visit Kerala, her birthplace, but not if the state’s political parties have their way.

Unknown to Rowan Williams, the principal leader of the Church of England, both the ruling Left and the Congress are looking to make political gains from his October 23-28 trip, which comes at a time Kerala faces panchayat elections.

Williams, his wife and their son Pip are to spend the whole of October 23 at the Kerala United Theological Seminary, where Jane’s father, the late Reverend Geoffrey Paul, was a teacher. Jane was born at the Thiruvananthapuram seminary and spent her early childhood there.

“Everyday, we are being flooded with requests from all the political parties,” a seminary official said. “If some want to click photographs with the Archbishop, others want to give him a public reception. The Congress politicians are more open; the Leftists are quite secretive.”

The CPM, which for obvious reasons cannot openly flirt with religion, has advised individual Protestant candidates “not to miss the opportunity’’.

Protestants are a powerful lobby in the state, especially in south Kerala, and consider Williams, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, as their head.

“We are not going to meet the Archbishop but if candidates want to meet him in their individual capacity, we will not stop them,’’ a CPM state secretariat member said.

During Williams’s Calcutta visit, Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim had attended the civic reception accorded to him while Mamata Banerjee was a guest of honour at the St Paul’s Cathedral reception.

The Kerala Congress plans to send a team to meet the Archbishop, which may include former chief minister Oommen Chandy. “We all would like to meet him. We have made a request,” said state unit official Benny Joseph.

Some politicians even want Williams to make an indirect appeal to Christian voters, who make up a fifth of the state’s electorate. But although the Kerala Church has seldom shied away from anti-Left politics, the seminary official said Williams would not accept the political requests.

“The Archbishop has a sentimental bond with Kerala as his wife was born and brought up here. But those trying to gain political mileage out of his trip are sure to be disappointed because we are not going to entertain them,” he said.

John Zacharia, Congress candidate for the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, said he had ensured a photo-op. “A photograph of mine with the Archbishop could do wonders (for my political fortunes),” he said.

The Williams family will visit the cottage at the seminary where Jane was born. The couple will plant saplings and rename the compound chapel as Geoffrey Paul Chapel.

A theologian, teacher and author of several books and scholarly papers, Jane now teaches at King’s College, London, and at the St Paul’s Theological Centre. She married Williams in 1981.

Her father had come to India as a missionary priest of the Church Mission Society and had served in Palayamkottai in Tamil Nadu besides Thiruvananthapuram. He joined the seminary’s teaching faculty in 1952 and headed its New Testament department before becoming its principal.