A Parsi priest could soon be your counsellor, too. On May 13, the first of a series of workshops begins in Mumbai to help priests take up community roles that go beyond the religious. They will be trained in better communication skills, to diagnose and advise on mental health issues within community members, and most important, offer something that is a rarity these days — a patient ear.
by Jyoti Shelar, thehindu.com
“Priests are vital to our community,” says Shernaz Cama, director of Parzor, a project to save the Parsi Zoroastrian heritage that implements ‘Jiyo Parsi’ (a fertility project to arrest the decline of the Parsi population) on behalf of the government. “Earlier, they were like community leaders with a strong standing. Over the last five decades, however, priesthood has lost its grip; they feel neglected and there seems to be a disconnect between them and the laity.”
The workshops, Dr. Cama says, will help them regain the same status they enjoyed, by creating a modern and forward-looking environment. “The priests’ methodology of delivering the message needs to be refreshed.”
For long, the 69,000-strong Parsi community had discussed ways for priests to take centre stage, and move beyond performing religious ceremonies.
The May 13 workshop will train priests to become better public speakers, teach them how to deal with difficult conversations by improving their leadership and communication skills, apart from touching upon various aspects of family life and education, as also enhance their grooming skills by training them in personality development. Dr. Cama says the goal of ‘Jiyo Parsi’ can only be attained if priests partner with them in changing mindsets and strengthening family values.
The day-long workshop will feature eminent Parsi professionals such as psychiatrists Kersi Chavda Ali Gabrani, and Yusuf Matcheswala, in addition to Ervad Darayus Bajan (Ervad is a Parsi honorific for a priest).
“This will help them become the first line of intervention for community members,” says Jiyo Parsi counsellor and this event’s coordinator Benaifer Sahukar. She says she became aware of the positive impact of pastoral counselling while working in the Don Bosco parish in Mumbai.
“There are people with suicidal tendencies, clinical depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues. As priests, they should be able to gauge if a person is disturbed, and counsel them to seek professional help,” she says. Ms. Sahukar feels appropriate training could help the priests take up the role of para professionals with a pastoral approach.
The dwindling community has over 400 full-time and part-time priests across the country, of which a majority are aged 60 or more. With the number of senior priests reducing, the community faces a shortage. “Not many opt for priesthood today and that’s because Parsi priests don’t enjoy the kind of facilities, perks or the status which the priests in other religions do,” says Ervad Bajan, a banker trained as a priest. “If the priests can guide the community in helping them understand the beauty of our religion and our proud heritage, and guide them towards having more enriching, fulfilling lives, it can work wonders,” he adds.
Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, head priest at the Rustom Faramnah agiary in Dadar, says: “Many of them do offer advice when asked. The daily attendance at Parsi fire temples has fallen over the last few years as many community members have shifted beyond the Parsi colonies. If approached for advice, we as priests, eagerly offer our viewpoints. But it looks like a nice idea to have a pastoral approach and develop a model that will grow.”