Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Parsi priests take cue from Christian pastors

The Zoroastrian initiative ‘Jiyo Parsi’ has taken a leaf out of Christianity’s book with its new ‘Jiyo Mobed’ programme that aims to make priests into community facilitators by enhancing their communication and leadership skills. “We were considering the Catholic example of priests as pastors or counsellors to the community and the first intermediary for any family problem like death or divorce,” explains Shernaz Cama, director of the UNESCO PARZOR Foundation that implements Jiyo Parsi on behalf of the government.

Article by Nergish Sunavala | TNN

imageKeeping this goal in mind, Jiyo Parsi-a government funded initiative to increase the community’s population through medical fertility assistance and advocacy-organised two workshops last year for Parsi priests or ‘mobeds’ where they were taught counselling and interpersonal skills by psychiatrists. About 40 priests attended the first workshop in May, while the second in November had a crowd of 50 as priests’ wives and children were also invited. “A lot of mobeds complained that their sons don’t want to become priests because they are looked down upon,” says Cama. “That is why we wanted the children present to see the respect their parents should be getting.”

In recent years, fewer Parsis go to fire temples and many have started disrespecting priests because of their shabby clothes and lack of confidence, says Jiyo Parsi programme coordinator Katy Gandevia. Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, who went to Poddar College and attended both workshops, said that most Parsis wrongly assume that only those who aren’t educated or can’t prosper in another profession take up the priesthood. The workshop combated such stereotypes by inviting highly educated priests to talk about their calling. “It is high time that priests are given due respect but it is also important that priests train themselves to do more than just recite prayers,” says Cama. “They should also be able to give spiritual sustenance to their flock.”

Besides sessions on self-care, parenting and substance abuse among the youth, the priests were also given a tutorial on the ‘Jiyo Parsi’ programme and encouraged to spread the message of having larger families. Parsiana, a community magazine, reported that Yusuf Matcheswalla, a Bohra professor of psychiatry at Grant Medical College, urged Parsi mobeds to play a greater role in getting youngsters hitched. “He reminded the audience that if a Bohri priest came across an unmarried man of 30, one could be sure that in a few days, a meeting would be arranged between the man’s family and that of a prospective bride,” reported Parsiana. This was followed by an hour-long session on communication skills by Kersi Chavda, American Psychiatric Association fellow, and a lecture on listening skills by Farrokh Jijina, the former assistant director of The Samaritans Helpline.

Cama says she only realized how much Christian pastors and Jewish rabbis interact with the youth when her son went to Trinity College, Cambridge, for his post-graduation. “The first person to reach out to him and all the other students was the chaplain,” says Cama. This was followed by regular invitations to participate in church brunches, donation drives and other community activities. “We need our priests to interact with the young rather than being ignored by them,” she adds. “In Iran, the priest is still very much a pastor and counsellor in the Zoroastrian community.”