Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II
1. We, the 187 member-bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), came together at the Alphonsian Pastoral Institute, Palai in Kerala, the place sanctified by St. Alphonsa, from February 5 -12, 2014, for the 31st Plenary Assembly. In continuation of the 30th Plenary Assembly’s theme, Role of the Church for a Better India, the Bishops deliberated, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on the theme: “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society - Responding to the Call of Vatican II”. On the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the CBCI Plenary Assembly reflected on this theme in the light of the Second Vatican Council documents in order to draw inspiration for her future course of life and ministry. We took into account the reflections of the Catholic Council of India which studied the same theme at its December 2013 annual meeting in Varanasi.
2. We first recalled the Church’s self-understanding, enshrined in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, as the pilgrim People of God, a community rooted in a deep experience of the Trinitarian God in Christ Jesus. Ad Gentes, reminds us that the Church is a community with a mission to evangelize, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all, a mission entrusted to her by Jesus and the Spirit. The Church exercises her mission in a world marked by a tremendous imbalance: a few very rich and the vast majority poor struggling to eke out a living. The Document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes impels the members of the Church to an involvement in the struggles of suffering humanity based on the principles of respect for the human person, solidarity and effective social dialogue to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Finally, the Council document on the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem points out that the lay faithful, who form the vast majority in this People of God, have a specific role in society – that of penetrating and perfecting the temporal order in the spirit of the Gospel.
3. When we look at our country, we see corruption plaguing every sphere of society. In such a scenario, Church institutions must be an example of transparency and probity. Another phenomenon is that of internal migration which, while opening opportunities to people, has torn the cultural and religious moorings that sustained them. Globalization too has brought in its wake problems like prolonged working hours which have disrupted family life. We witness the trend to fundamentalism which seeks to dilute the secular character of our nation. Against this trend, we stand by the values upheld by the Indian Constitution and appeal to governments to respect these values.
4. The Church in India has tried to live up to the vision of Vatican II. Several people have been led to a deep experience of God through reading the Word of God, through the traditional practices of piety and through the Charismatic Movement. In many places Small Christian Communities, rooted in the Word and Eucharist have been established. “These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a 'civilization of love'" (Redemptoris Missio, 51). The Church has worked for the uplift of the downtrodden. She has been appreciated for the way she has responded immediately to natural calamities, for her unbiased outreach to the needy and vulnerable sections of society. Participatory structures have been established in several regions, dioceses and parishes. The 2010 CBCI Gender Policy has been hailed as a step in the right direction. Youth have experienced empowerment through training programs and services.
5. However, there is still need for improvement. The reflections of the Plenary Assembly centred chiefly on seven areas:
5.i. Fostering God Experience: What is needed is a deep experience of the Trinitarian God drawing on the treasures of the Church especially the Word and Sacraments. For this, our liturgies have to be well prepared, participative and meaningful. Hence, we have decided to initiate a renewal in the celebration of the liturgy so that it becomes an effective means for Christ-centred God experience. We bishops have to be ourselves Spirit-filled men of God, giving priority to prayer and to the Word of God, and helping our clergy and lay faithful to become aware of God’s presence and activity in their lives. The God experience will lead to an inner conversion made visible in the simplicity of our lives, in our attitude of love, compassion and forgiveness. Following the example of Pope Francis, we will live a genuinely simple, humble, welcoming and outgoing life reaching out to all people. We will so orient the formation of future priests and religious that they enter the ministry with an attitude of humility, ready to serve the poor and marginalized of society.
5.ii. Addressing justice issues: The experience of God will lead us to involvement in and solidarity with the marginalized and the exploited, those suffering from disabilities, those living in the peripheries of economic, cultural and social spheres. We will speak out against all forms of injustice meted out to them and we will defend their rights. We listened to the call of Pope Francis urging us to “work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 188). We want the Church to be truly a Church of the Poor. We reaffirm our solidarity with the Dalits in India who continue to be oppressed. The CBCI reiterates its resolve to struggle for equal rights of Dalit Christians on par with their counterparts in other religions. We will continue the fight against the 1950 Presidential Order, which unjustly discriminates against Dalit Christians and we demand that the Government remove this 64 year injustice. Justice delayed is justice denied. We also commit ourselves to rooting out all forms of discrimination within the Church and ensuring equal opportunities in leadership roles for Dalit Christians.
5.iii. Ensuring for our lay faithful their rightful place: Recognizing the God-given talents and potentialities of the lay faithful, we will, in the first place, listen more to their voice. Hence, we commit ourselves to establish Pastoral Councils in every diocese. We realize that formation of the lay faithful is the need of the hour. To this end, we commit ourselves, as a priority, to initiate programmes for lay formation to equip them to play their role in the Church and society.
5.iv. Stamping out Discrimination against Women. We commit ourselves to strive for the equal dignity of and equal opportunities for women, providing especially equal opportunities for the education of the girl child. We wholeheartedly support the campaign against female foeticide and domestic violence. In the face of increasing sexual abuse and violence in Indian society, we will do all in our power to enforce discipline so as to ensure a secure environment in our institutions for women and children.
5.v.. Creating a Christian presence in political and public life. We depend in a special way on our youth, the future leaders of the Church and society. As bishops we realize much more needs to be done for them. We want to embark on intensive programmes for them to enter into the mainstream of public life so as to ensure value-based politics. Hence, we request every region to set up, wherever possible, training centres to prepare the youth for leadership roles in civic and political life.
5.vi. Promoting Dialogue. India is home to a rich variety of ancient cultures and religions. The Church in India has to be a Church in dialogue. We urge our lay faithful to engage in the “dialogue of life”, mingling with our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions, greeting them on their feast days and being with them in life’s vulnerable moments such as sickness and death. Besides strengthening the already existing Small Christian Communities, we will seek to establish Basic Human Communities which would be a powerful means for communal peace and harmony.
5.vii. Safeguarding Ecology. The Bishops re-affirm their commitment to the protection of nature. We stand for sustainable development of peoples and human ecology. The CBCI Plenary Assembly shares the apprehensions of people living in the Western Ghats and in the areas affected by the 2011 Notification of the Ministry of Environment on the Coastal Regulation Zone. We appeal to the Union Government to protect the civic rights of the inhabitants in areas adversely affected by the proposals of the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan Reports. The CBCI also shares the similar concerns of the tribal population in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand fast coming under mining projects.
6. The road ahead of us is challenging. But we count on the presence of the Risen Lord who, through the power of His Spirit, “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). All renewal is always the work of the Spirit. We place our efforts at renewing the Church in view of renewing society in the hands of Mary, our Mother, the Star of Evangelization.
Fr. Joseph Chinnayyan
Deputy Secretary General &