02/19/2008, 00.00
INDIA

Cardinal Vithayathil elected new president of Indian bishops

Nirmala Carvalho
The newly-elected president talks to AsiaNews about his priorities: the unity of the Catholic Church, the defence of the downtrodden and the protection of religious freedom. He stresses the need for dialogue and tolerance. He receives Cardinal’s Gracias best wishes.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Card Mar Varkey Vithayathil has been elected president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). The prelate, who heads the Syro-Malabar Church (some 3.5 million of India’s 16 million Catholics), spoke to AsiaNews about his work and the Indian Church.

“My priority is to make the three Episcopal bodies (the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and Latin Churches) work together with greater cohesion, communion and cooperation in unity of spirit,” he said. Even though “my election as president was completely unexpected given my age (81), [. . .] I humbly accepted.”

For the cardinal India has to cope with many great contradictions. The country is undergoing “great economic development” but still faces “immense misery”. Its “constitution guarantees us freedom to practice and propagate our faith and yet fundamentalist forces unleash their reign of terror on minority” communities.

“The CBCI will try to use all the resources and personnel of the Catholic Church to ensure that in Asia, the poor and the vulnerable sections of society get a better deal, that the marginalised are embraced with the charity mission of the Church through education and healthcare services.”

For the cardinal the CBCI wants to remove “misunderstandings and prejudices towards the Christian faith [. . .] through dialogue” in “a climate of understanding and mutual exchange of views.” Hence the “CBCI will work towards building a society and a nation of peace, unity and mutual understanding and tolerance.”

“Our beloved John Paul II in ‘Ecclesia in Asia’ had said that the Third Millennium belongs to Asia and this is the renewed commitment of the Indian Church.”

More importantly, “evangelisation” is “not merely doing social work, but the explicit and direct proclamation of the message, works and promises of Jesus Christ. It is essential that we communicate the Good News with courage and commitment, bringing joy and fulfillment into people’s life,” he said.

Card Oswald Gracias, a former CBCI president, expressed “great joy” for a choice that “sends a strong message that the Eastern Churches are important and an integral part of the one Catholic Church.”

“The appointment,” he added, “also highlights the growing importance of the Church in Kerala (the new president’s state) which is truly God’s country.”

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