Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao’s pastoral letter to Christians in the archdiocese of Goa and Daman may have made headlines because he made a plea for people to work towards protecting the Constitution, but another request in his annual epistle has got Christians in Goa talking.
In the letter, which the archbishop releases at the beginning of each pastoral year, starting June 1, Ferrao also called on members of the Catholic church to tone down ostentatious weddings and hold modest celebrations instead.
However, while several Catholics in Goa agree with the import of Ferrao’s suggestion, they argue that the scale of a wedding should be a matter of choice, rather than a diktat.
‘Keep it simple’
The archbishop is the religious and spiritual guide to Catholics in Goa and Daman.
Themed on poverty and care for the poor, his letter, dated June 3, advises against excessive materialism and rues the fact that Catholic weddings are becoming “more and more ostentatious and extravagant”. Ferrao wrote: “Let us strive to keep our feasts simple and sincerely endeavour to change social customs and traditions that go against justice. Christian life is a life of sharing, wherein we are led to generously offer our time, talents and even material resources to others.”
Christians account for nearly 26% of Goa’s 1.5 million population.
Christian weddings in the coastal state typically start with a solemn nuptial service in church, with the bride, groom and their friends and family dressed in their finest threads. This is followed by the reception, replete with live music, dancing, a free-flowing bar and a meat-heavy buffet invariably spread around an ice-sculpture.
The emergence of Goa as a destination wedding venue in recent years has coincided with a rise in the expenditure on Catholic weddings too. While local celebrations are still modest as compared to the more extravagant destination weddings, those in the wedding industry suggest that even a modest Catholic wedding now costs in the region of Rs 10 lakh.
Influence of destination weddings
According to the Goa government’s director of tourism Menino D’Souza, Goa accounts for 30% to 40% of the entire Indian destination wedding industry economy, which is pegged at Rs 1 lakh crore. The Indian destination wedding industry is growing at the rate of 25% to 30% annually, he said. “This has given a big boost to the local economy,” D’Souza told Scroll.in. “Since 2015, there have been between 500 to 700 high-end destination weddings in Goa.”
The influence of the destination wedding market has possibly led to couples planning their nuptials feeling the need to match, to a certain degree, the wedding galas being held around them.
Ayesha Barretto, a popular master of ceremonies, especially at weddings, agrees. “Yes, in a big way,” she said. “But at the end, it is a Goan Catholic wedding and people invite everyone they are obligated to, and end up inviting their entire village or the waddo [ward] they are from. And thus a big chunk of expenses goes there itself.”
Additionally, some Catholics have adopted practices that were previously never seen at their weddings before, such as pre-wedding sangeet ceremonies. Also, during the reception, choreographed dances by the bride and groom to popular Bollywood songs are slipping into the celebrations in place of the more traditional western dances. Weeks of practice with a hired choreographer leads up to this display. All these add to the wedding expenditure.
Marsha Kim D’Souza, a Goa-based wedding planner says that a combination of easily available information on the internet and peer pressure are influencing the choices couples make for their wedding celebrations. “I think, couples are now more sensitive to what they really want for their wedding rather than what traditions need to be followed,” she said.
She added: “The internet has a major role to play in helping and influencing couples to have the most unique wedding in town, instead of their parents planning it for them. Here, I think a few traditions may be lost.”
A personal choice
While Catholics and those associated with the wedding industry say such changes are inevitable and that the archbishop’s call for moderation in such celebrations is well-intentioned, they also insist that the decision, in the end, is a personal choice.
“With rising incomes and exposure to new lifestyles, it is now a trend that the affluent spend one-fifth or more of the wealth accumulated in a lifetime on a wedding,” said Menino D’Souza. “It is an individual’s choice on the kind of wedding they would want to have.”
Eric Pinto, a social activist acknowledged the “higher ideal” in the archbishop’s recommendation, but added that even the archdiocese has been unable to keep itself isolated from social pressures, which often demand extravagant expenditure on certain celebrations. “Christians are called to live up to higher ideals as mentioned by the archbishop,” said Pinto. “Social pressures run contrary. So each person must decide. The archdiocese itself has not been immune from those pressures.”
Mayabhushan Nagvenkar is the Goa correspondent for the Indo-Asian News Service.