Outsourcing Prayers

Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs in the West are saving money and trouble by sending their worship needs abroad


| August 12, 2004


Is prayer a personal, participatory activity, or merely another commodity in the global market? With the outsourcing of prayers receiving new attention, the line between the two seems more blurred than ever. Some Catholics have historically donated sums of money to specify that a mass be said for a particular intention. European, Canadian, and American churches are now collecting money to pass along special intention requests to churches in Kerala, a region with one of the densest concentrations of Catholics in India. Kerala is particularly rich in priests, making it perfect to relieve the critical shortage of clergy in Europe and America that makes the waiting list for special-intentioned masses painfully long. Following the pattern of global economics, outsourced masses are also much cheaper, costing as much as one sixtieth of their Western counterparts.

Even with this financial disparity, however, these funds often help finance impoverished churches in Kerala. Moreover, priests sympathetic to the practice assert that the exportation of mass intentions is not new, and has only recently received negative attention because of the exportation of technical jobs to India. With waiting lists as long as two years for local mass intentions and a third-world clergy working with very limited resources, the practice of outsourcing prayer certainly makes practical sense for the church.

Catholics, however, are not the only ones participating in long-distance prayer. Hindus living in Europe and North America can worship at their favorite Indian temple without the hassle of transatlantic flight, offering prayers, food, and flowers to dozens of different sacred locations by credit card. Though many are critical of the practice of outsourcing prayer, the convenience it offers to the willing is simply too good to pass up, and its place in the global economy is too compelling to ignore.
-- Brendan Themes

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