I am pleased to share with you some of the concerns of the Church in India, as well as certain common plan of action that evolved during a series of Consultations I took part along with Archbishop Albert D’Souza, Secretary General, during this week in Delhi.
The first three Consultations were organised by the CBCI Office of PRO/ Spokesperson, the fourth one jointly convened by the Presidents of CBCI, NCCI and EFI. These Consultations were organised as follow-up of the Special Consultation we had at the CBCI Centre on 20th January, 2015, and the subsequent Pastoral Letter of 27th January, 2015, which I have sent to all the Bishops, as requested by the members of the Consultations.
The first one was the Meeting of the Regional PROs’/Spokespersons held from 10.00 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Monday 16th March, 2015. Thirteen Regional Bishops’ Councils (out of fourteen) were represented. Mr. Justice Cyriac Joseph, Advocate Romy Chacko and Fr. Dominic Emmanuel were the resource persons for this one-day Consultation. It was unanimously agreed to strengthen the CBCI through networking of the Regional PRO set-up for timely and effective response to the happenings that affect the minorities and the Church in particular. The meeting was a real brain storming session and mutual sharing one.
Following the PROs’ Meeting, a Consultation with selected legal experts, senior journalists and social activists was held on the same day evening. The CBCI Office Secretaries, Core Team Members also participated in this meeting. The happenings and developments in the socio-political scenario after the 20th January Consultation were discussed and adequate precautionary measures were suggested.
NUCF Meeting at Bible Bhavan
On Tuesday, 17th March, a full day National Consultation with the theme “Upholding Constitutional Rights of Minorities, with Special Reference to Christians” was organized by the National United Christian Forum (NUCF) which includes Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) Council for Churches at Bible Bhawan. This was attended by almost 150 delegates from all the three Churches. Mr. Justice Cyriac Joseph, Prof. Dr. T. K. Oommen were the resource persons. The Meeting surveyed the global crisis in which people of faith are facing mass violence, even extermination in the Middle-East at the hands of religious fanatics and offered our prayers for and stand in solidarity with the Christian communities in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and neighbouring countries. It also expressed deep concern about the physical violence – arson, murder and rape of our religious personnel both men and women – as with the structural violence which is manifest in urban and rural India, in social and administrative excesses, and aberrant judicial pronouncements. As the President of NUCF, I moderated the sessions. The President of NCCI, Bishop Tharanath Sagar, (Residential and Presiding Bishop, Bangalore Episcopal Area Methodist Church in India) and Bishop C. V. Mathew, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Council of Churches, the Co-Presidents of NUCF were also present in the meetings.
The two action plans approved by the General Assembly of the NUCF on that day are:
: Convene gathering of the representatives of Minority Communities and the Hindu Leaders of good will.
: Promote the cause of Dalit Christians and backward communities with adequatesupport from NUCF as a common policy.
Meeting of the Christian MPs.
The finale of the series of Consultations was the Meeting with the Christian Members of Parliament at the CBCI Centre on the evening of 17th March itself. 17 Christian Members of Parliament, belonging to different political parties took part in a very fruitful informal discussion. His Eminence Cardinal Oswald Gracias was also present for this informal meeting. The MPs were very enthusasitic and appreciative of our efforts to defend Christian presence in India. They wholeheartedly extended their support irrespective of the party and State.
I deem it opportune that I share with you some important suggestions that came up during these Consultations, in which the CBCI Secretary General and myself were present.
1. Present political change has come about due to peoples’ frustration and desire for development. In this context there is a need of focusing on the long term issues and action plans which should be communicated to the common people by engaging them to understand the current socio-political scenario and the need for a unified stand.
2. The Church’s preferential option for the poor has to be rediscovered and translated into action at all levels and our efforts to get the SC status for the Christian and Muslim Dalits should continue till we get results.
3. Social research and an effective resource centre is the need of the time in order to present documented data that would evoke convincing response to what is happening today. Such a centre would also be a nerve centre that will process information and interact with the Government, political leaders and media.
4. At all levels we need to put our own house in order and become the light of the world and salt of the earth to the majority, who are by and large favourably disposed towards us.
5. Quality proactive representation of the contributions made by the Church through its various ministries, especially in the areas of education, healthcare and social service through the media of the Church.
6. More frequent interaction with the elected representatives, IAS officers and local leaders who are favourably disposed towards us will strengthen relationships, create friendships and remove prejudices. This should take place all levels – national, regional, local and institutional.
7. When needed we should not shy away from taking legal steps for redressing our concerns and issues.
8. We should also workout our strategy for representation in the National Commission for Minorities, use scholarships and facilities available for Minorities and interact proactively with the Minority Commission.
9. To connect our mind and heart with all other minorities we need to create a forum at the National, Regional and Local levels to meet and discuss common concerns periodically and not only after experiencing violence or atrocities, and expose the fallacy of the conversion myth (we are still only 2.3% even after so many decades).
10. Some MPs shared the view that our approach perceived to be far too passive and submissive ending in candle processions and prayer. So we may need to discover more effective strategies of engagement without compromising our Christian principles.
I hope that these proposals evolved from a series of deliberations and discussions will enable us better to understand the present socio-political scenario of our Country and to spot out the inherent threat to the Minorities, especially to Christians. Let these thoughts be a clarion call for the Catholic Church to join hands with other Churches in India, and in a wider perspective, with other likeminded people of good will, to claim our legitimate rights and to demand for a peaceful life for all the citizens of India.
I earnestly request you all to kindly follow up the action plans suggested in my previous Pastoral Letter. The Regional Bishops’ Council Chairman/Secretary have to give directions to the Deputy Secretary Generals, PROs and other Commission Secretaries to implement the suggestions. May God bless you abundantly.