Four years have gone since a Christian woman approached a controversial spiritual centre offering miraculous healing at Kalavoor in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, seeking divine intervention to get her 27-year-old daughter married without delay.
The priests at the now infamous Kreupasanam Marian Retreat Centre and Socio-Cultural Centre had an easy solution: They advised the woman to buy a dozen old copies of the centre’s Malayalam weekly mouthpiece Kreupasanam for ₹2,000.
On their directions, she burned the copies and mixed some of the ashes with dosa batter daily to give her daughter a “divine breakfast”.
When the daughter asked her about the bad taste, she claimed it was because of the poor quality of the oil.
Only when the daughter was admitted to a local hospital with food poisoning did she disclose the truth to the doctors confronting her.
Once the doctors revealed the incident to the news media, it caused a large-scale sensation across Kerala.
Subsequent police probes revealed that the centre was propagating black magic and superstition.
Until recently, burning the publication and consuming the ash constituted the highest healing remedy it suggested.
Still not action
After the dosa batter incident, the police escalated cases against the retreat centre, and it stopped suggesting the burning and consumption of its magazine for healing.
The state’s largest popular science movement, the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), earlier approached the state government seeking action against the centre for promoting regressive thoughts and practices that mock the reformist legacy of Kerala and the prevailing scientific mentality.
In its complaint, the KSSP mentioned several instances where the priests advised ordinary people to burn the weekly magazine and consume its ashes to obtain miraculous solutions for their long-pending worries and anxieties.
Despite some investigations, the police are yet to take stringent action against the centre, and it has even received state government funds to promote Chavittunatakam — a traditional Christian art form of Kerala.
After a brief interval, the retreat centre is now back in public focus — not just in Kerala but across India — with Congress Working Committee (CWC) member and former Union Defence Minister AK Antony’s wife Elizabeth Antony attributing her son Anil Antony’s sudden rise in the BJP to the divine intervention facilitated by the priests of the Catholic Church who head the controversial retreat centre.
After a YouTube channel of the centre started carrying her testimony on Friday, 22 September, it became the talk of the town across Kerala and outside.
The Elizabeth video
It has since evolved into a major controversy, with questions being raised even on the political integrity of the Antony family.
The testimony, originally given by Elizabeth at a recent get-together at the retreat centre run under the Catholic diocese of Alappuzha, has now gone viral on social media and invited the attention of the national media.
In the video, Elizabeth said she initially had disdain and disgust towards the BJP, but they vanished once her elder son joined the party, and the retreat centre’s chief priest informed her that it was a miracle by God.
She thanked St Mary for Antony’s acceptance of Anil’s BJP entry with calm and composure.
Thanks were also given to Mary for the recent accommodation of Antony, a two-time Kerala chief minister and a nonbeliever, in the CWC, the Congress party’s highest decision-making body, apart from his recovery from different ailments.
“The mother of Jesus has changed my disdain and repulsiveness towards the BJP,” Elizabeth said repeatedly in the video.
What Elizabeth said
Elizabeth, who runs an NGO named Navoothan Charitable Foundation after she retired from a public-sector bank, also disclosed that the centre’s director, Fr VP Joseph Valiyaveettil, advised her to support Anil’s decision to join the BJP, saying it would be the right choice and many positions are waiting for him there.
In the 18-minute-44-second video, she was also seen thanking miracle man, Fr Valiyaveettil, for helping her and her nonbeliever husband overcome the side effects of Covid-19.
In the video, Elizabeth noted that her husband lost confidence as his feet gave away, and he was losing strength. She added that this forced him to seek retirement from active politics and relocate to Thiruvananthapuram.
“I couldn’t see my husband sitting idle. When nothing happened for eight months, I renewed my agreement with God in February. Much to my relief, my husband was again chosen for the Congress Working Committee in August. He regained his self-confidence, which saw him travel to Hyderabad (where the latest CWC meeting was held) alone,” she says, sobbing.
“My husband never helped them [our sons] get a foothold in politics. Then, I put in a prayer request before God. To my utter dismay, the row over the BBC documentary cropped up. I pleaded before God as I was helpless. I was keen to see my son making strides in politics,” she recalled.
According to Elizabeth, her son had a long-cherished dream to enter politics. He found there would not be any future for him in the Congress after the Raipur conference of the party adopted a resolution against dynasty politics.
“One day, he called me to say he had received a call from the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office]. After four days, TV channel headlines screamed that he had joined the BJP. I again pleaded with God to ensure peace and harmony at home,” she said.
Embarrassment for BJP-RSS?
The Kreupasanam Marian Retreat Centre is known among people — irrespective of religion — as a place for making prayer submissions directly to St Mary.
The prayer at the institution is known as the Mariyan Covenant Prayer, and apparently engaging in it continuously facilitates the achieving of most of one’s personal intentions.
Though it is the first public remark of Elizabeth on Anil’s BJP entry, the attempt to give credit to the centre will not go well with the BJP — at least with the state unit.
On many previous occasions, BJP leaders in the state accused the centre of promoting superstition rather than facilitating the conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
BJP-RSS publications have also been targeting the centre and its controversial magazine for a long time.
With Elizabath’s disclosure hogging the national limelight, social media users in Kerala have become active, tracing the recent past of the retreat centre and its magazine, which are firmly rooted in superstition.
Only recently, the Kreupasanam magazine, which often contains regressive content, landed in a controversy of a different kind when teachers of a government school at Pattanakkad in the same Alapuzha district advised students to keep the publication between their books and under their pillow as it would help them perform well in the annual examinations.
Though many parents complained to the Kerala Education Department about this diktat, no remedial action was taken.
Those who visit the centre say buying at least 25 copies of Kreupasanam from a counter to enter the shrine to offer prayers would be mandatory.
Inside the complex, there will be separate counters for covenant prayers.
People can sign agreements to visit and offer prayers there for a fixed tenure, and by that time, the aims can be achieved through divine intervention.
Several people visit it daily, so there is traffic congestion on the national highway stretch between Alapuzha and Cherthala.
As the followers of the shrine are expanding beyond language barriers, Kreupasanam is now published in five languages: English, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam.
More than half of the publication is filled with narrations of miracles experienced by devotees, including those of complex health issues healed solved without the help of modern medicine.
Critics say Fr Valiyaveetil once fell ill with viral fever, and he soon got admitted to a private hospital without waiting for divine intervention. When asked why he had not waited for divine intervention, he said he was a priest and absorbed the sins of people coming to the shrine seeking cure.
“They get cured; I absorb their sins, and in my case, nobody can absorb my sins. So I am taking medical help,” he said at that time. Established in 1989, it is accused of promoting superstition, promising success in life, and curing through faith. Strangely, the centre recently received ₹25 lakh from the Kerala government as a grant to promote the traditional art form of Chavittunatakam.
The end result
According to KSSP activist VN Jayachandran, the centre was winning followers by circulating exaggerated healing stories through the publication and newly started YouTube channels.
According to him, the centre aimed for maximum promotion by putting Elizabath’s testament on the YouTube channel, and has now achieved exactly that.
While Kerala has dozens of similar retreat centres across the state, the most popular among them include the Divine Retreat Centre in Muringoor, which has the blessing of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly; the Marian Retreat Centre in Anakkara under the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Kanjirappally; and the Sehion Ministries in Attappady, Palakkad, the official retreat centre of the Palakkad diocese.
“Whatever the intentions, the testament by Elizabeth has caused irreparable damage to Congress and the image of her husband, Antony. The revelations also highlight that certain Christian priests in Kerala recruit people for the BJP to achieve selfish gains,” opined writer and political observer Dr J Devika.
The claim that the priest gave advice favouring Anil’s BJP entry proves the inclination among certain Christian leaders towards aggressive Hinduism,” he added.
“Antony has always remained soft on the BJP-RSS, and once infamously opined that minority communalism was more bizarre than majority communalism,” political observer Dr Azad Malayattil. “Now, his wife is invoking superstition and miracle healing to justify their son’s entry into the BJP leadership.”
He added: “Despite the anti-Christian violence in Manipur, a Catholic organisation is propagating her statement through YouTube to win followers and please the BJP. All these absurdities happen even as Antony occupies a position in the working committee of the party that is looking to be an alternative to the BJP at the national level.”