Priesthood in the Catholic Church is synonymous with celibacy, but that hasn't prevented some priests in the southern Indian state of Kerala from hooking up men and women for conjugal life.
The "men of the cloth" have set up a matrimonial website exclusively for the Christian community, discounting popular belief that the clergy knows little - or nothing - about the intricacies of love and marriage.
Directly managed by Catholic priests, the portal chavaramatrimony.com is the "most trustworthy and reliable" when it comes to matchmaking, according to Subin George, an assistant professor at a polytechnic college in Angamali, who found his wife through the service.
More than 10,000 weddings have taken place thanks to the website since its launch in 1996, Johnson C Abraham, the site's executive director, told Al Jazeera.
"We had only 10-15 registrations when we started and now here we stand as one of the most trusted and largest matrimonial services in the state."
- Johnson C Abraham, executive director
Headquartered in Kochi, the portal is named after Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara - the co-founder of the first congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church which is now known as Caramelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI).
Chavara toiled for the enrichment of the Christian community and was beatified on February 8, 1986 by Pope John Paul II during his papal visit to India. His vision "good families resemble heavenly abode on Earth" is the motto behind the ISO-certified portal.
"We continue with Chavara's ideologies … This is a service, not a business," Father Roby Kannanchira, CMI, director, told Al Jazeera.
About 30,000 viewers visit the website each day from more than 100 countries, said Father Kannanchira.
Christianity is India's third-largest religion with about 24 million followers, or 2.3 per cent of India's population.
Operating from 13 branches in Kerala - with plans to open another in a yet-to-be named country - the priests' commitment to building strong families has resulted in Kerala's oldest and largest matrimonial service.
"We had only 10-15 registrations when started, and now here we stand as one of the most trusted and largest matrimonial services in the state," Abraham said.
He said referrals from those satisfied with their partners have helped grow the service. "Part of our success lies in our old clients and our popularity owes the word of mouth, rather than any marketing strategy," said Abraham.
Fear becomes trust
It wasn't always so easy. Many Christians were wary when the website was first ordained by the priests. Online matchmaking was a novelty in India then, and people were not that open to providing photographs and private details for the world to see on the web.
But times have changed. "We publish a monthly magazine with the photographs and details of our registered prospective brides and grooms. Every profile is verified before registration, to avoid any misuse and cheating," said Abraham.
PP Paul, a businessman from Thrissur, beamed with joy when he recalled how his son met his future bride through the website.
"My son and daughter-in-law were golden couple of the month, and their photo was published in the monthly magazine," Paul said.
"The new generation, which is running after money and career, needs proper counselling to make the family life work."
- Father Roby Kannanchira, CMI, director
He had registered his son's profile on another popular matrimonial website, but didn't get the kind of matchmaking responses he hoped for. Later, he turned to the Chavara portal and found 23-year-old Rinijo's profile suitable for his son Nijesh, 28, who works as a HR executive in Abu Dhabi.
Her father also found Nijesh's personal details and photograph agreeable.
"After six months of searching, my father found the profile of Nijesh for me," homemaker Rinijo Paul told Al Jazeera.
The extensive database of more than 100,000 prospective partners is updated every four months. The site also provides specialised services such as post-marriage counselling tips, a helpline, and family news reports and photos.
"Every month the new 1,500 registrations show the popularity and trust of our service," said Father Kannanchira.
Despite stiff competition from other online matchmaking sites, chavaramatrimony.com has the edge over the others.
For one, the priests behind the site are known and trusted within the community, and the counselling experience they offer helps prospective partners to bond better.
"The new generation, which is running after money and career, needs proper counselling to make the family life work. Our trained psychologists and counsellors offer the necessary help for couples, and have saved several families from heading towards divorce," Father Kannanchira said.
According to Abraham, the priests are not acting for personal gain, but instead are committed to community service, which helps drive the service's popularity.
Subin George graduated from a college run by the church. "I personally have faith in them. Maybe that's why I was driven to Chavara matrimony and I found the proposal from my wife within six months after the registration," said George, 29.
He also signed up for another matrimonial portal in Kerala, but "didn't get any good response from there".
Jobins Abraham, a business analyst working in Kochi, met his wife Tintu, a dental surgeon, through Chavara. "The service was extremely good and within three months, I found a suitable proposal."
Source: Al Jazeera