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Mobedi models

The Spring 2019 issue of the FEZANA Journal (FJ), the quarterly publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, features a cover story, "New model of mobedi in North America (NA)" dedicated "to the hardworking mobeds around the world, but specially the 200+ mobeds and mobedyars in NA." A guest editorial titled "A proposed new model for mobedi" by Mobed Arda-e-Viraf M. Minocherhomjee, president of the North American Mobeds Council (NAMC) suggests, "We need to evaluate if we have the appropriate organizational structures and resources to address the rapidly changing environment of the 21st century...

"The older generation of Zarathushtis from India focus on ceremonies and farajyat (obligatory) prayers, whereas the younger generation is more interested in understanding the meaning of our prayers, the religious doctrine, and how to make the religion relevant to their daily lives," Minocherhomjee observes. "NAMC is addressing these issues through lecture series, video conferences, and weekly quotations with the translation of our prayers to better help our community understand the key concepts in our scriptures."

He attributes the decline in mobedi in India to the "loss of mobed empowerment...losing control over their destiny, and the (behdins) not being proactive in addressing the situation."

Aware of this shortcoming, Athornan Mandal president Dastur Khurshed Dastoor along with The WZO (World Zoroastrian Organisation) Trust Funds (WZOTF) chairman Dinshaw Tamboly and others started the Empowering Mobeds (EM) program. The scheme originated as the Jiyo Mobed (JM) program which involved the Delhi-based Parzor Foundation as well as the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP). But on account of the bad blood between BPP chairman Yazdi Desai and the Dastoor/Tamboly team (see "Empowering and disempowering," Parsiana, December 7, 2018), JM was forsaken and EM took over.

EM imparts and reinforces modern day skills and training to the existing and aspiring mobeds. To be trained in counseling techniques and technology usage, the priests would be better equipped to interact with the laity. Funding from local, national and international organizations will enhance the remuneration mobeds receive.

The M. F. Cama Athornan Institute Ex-Students’ Foundation (MFCAIESF) holds annual refresher courses for mobeds and male athornan family members who are not ordained into the priesthood. Priests and lay speakers at these events cover various aspects of the religion and traditions; interactive sessions with scholar priests are held.

But EM, MFCAIESF and the supporting agencies face a mammoth task. As FJ editor Dr Dolly Dastoor notes in her editorial, "There are 148 agiaries all over India of which only 30% are self-sufficient; of the 50 agiaries in Bombay, 40% are self-sufficient. From the demographics collected on 427 mobeds in India, 167 are over 65 years, 230 are married with no children, which reduces further the pool of potential future mobeds."

How then does one cope?

In Bharuch, in south Gujarat, for example, one priest for some time serviced four agiaries, commuting from one to the other by rickshaw. Though the agiaries in Bharuch are owned by four different trusts, they must have coordinated their efforts. In cities like Bombay where agiaries are situated in one locality, a visiting priest may attend several fires but where fire temples are dispersed, the time taken for commuting from one to the other would limit the institutions covered. If this share-a-priest scheme is to be introduced, security personnel will have to be employed round the clock to safeguard the premises and their contents.

In Lahore, two ladies were the mainstay of the local agiary. In Calicut, lay people look after the prayer hall after their senior priest retired. In Bhuj, non Parsis look after the prayer hall after the last Parsi lady resident expired.

Even if priests were available, how many small communities could afford a full-time mobed, even assuming subsidies were offered? Just the cost of kathi and the physical maintenance of a fire temple can deplete trust coffers.

Reducing the number of fire temples is one option but this is an emotive issue involving multiple individual trusts, reticent beneficiaries and endless litigation. Sooner or later the community will have to come to grips with this problem of plenty or risk properties being encroached upon as happened to the Rustamji Cawasjee Banaji (Kadmi) agiary in Calcutta and probably some mofussil agiaries elsewhere. Since selling premises raises accusations of profiting and underhand transactions, the properties could be converted to cosmopolitan public purposes such as schools, libraries, play centers, gardens, public halls.

The Jesuits face a similar situation to the Parsis. The number of new entrants to the order is dwindling while the existing priests are aging, incapacitated or dying. It takes around 11 years of training to become a Jesuit. Not all aspirants qualify. The order runs numerous educational institutions but as their numbers shrink one priest is assigned to manage several organizations. Lay people, of all communities with Jesuit values, are appointed to the top posts. The priests keep an eye on the overall functioning and the finances.

Notes Ervad Soli Dastur in his FJ article, "A new model of delivering priestly services to the community": "During the ’90s, some humdins and their Zoroastrian associations approached NAMC with a request to learn and perform some outer Zoroastrian ceremonies like jashans and obsequies — in the absence of any mobeds.

"NAMC started a mobedyar (a mobed’s helper) program to train a behdin (or a mobed family humdin) available to perform specific ceremonies like jashan and obsequies. A program was put together by Mobeds (Dr) Jehan Bagli, Adi Unwalla, and Behram Panthaki and they trained three or four behdin volunteers to be mobedyars."

Mobed Tehemton Mirza in his FJ piece, "Mobeds of the future," notes in the NAMC program, "non-mobeds, regardless of their gender, are trained and initiated to perform certain basic outer liturgical ceremonies as an assistant to, or in the absence of a mobed. Zoroastrian communities, particularly those without mobeds, are well served by mobedyars. Mobedyars have proven themselves to be dedicated and committed in their field. Their value could be enhanced by further training and expanding their role in their respective communities."

As Minocherhomjee notes, "The North American environment is in many ways quite different from that in India, in that mobeds in all age cohorts are often highly educated professionals or business persons and are leaders. They are doctors, lawyers, investment professionals, engineers, etc. They have run departments of multinational organizations and managed small and large businesses." He is the founding and managing partner of Chicago Growth Partners, a private equity firm managing USD 1.2 billion in assets.

With the combined wisdom of the global community and a willingness to "adopt, adapt and adept," as Minocherhomjee’s father once told him when he left India for the New World, alternate approaches can be found.

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Mobed Minocher Homjee's views on Mobeds of the Future need to be commended very highly.Interpreting The Gathas to make them relevant for today's world should be the focus of our clergy.<br><br>Traditions and rituals have their place in our lives but are increasingly losing the importance they once played in our past lives.<br><br>The quicker our co religionists follow this lead from North America, the easier it will be for our community. Yezad Kapadia
- Rati Y Kapadia
- 10-Jun-2019


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