07/22/2010, 00.00
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Indian Catholics involved in the Synod of the Middle East

by P. Anbu A.
As immigrants in the Middle East, Indian Catholics bear witness to their faith and to the Islamic-Christian dialogue in the Muslim world. In India, interfaith dialogue has to deal with the challenge of fundamentalism. Fr Anbu A., a Verbite missionary and Islam expert, talks to AsiaNews about the meaning of the synod for Indian Christians.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Catholics are a minority in India and the Middle East, but their presence goes back to the dawn of Christianity. In recent years, globalisation has led a number of Indian Christians to move to Middle Eastern countries where they live and work and where they bear witness to their faith. On the occasion of the Synod of Middle East Churches, set to take place from 10 to 24 October in Rome, AsiaNews has talked to Fr Anbu A., a Verbite missionary and Islam expert, to explore the meaning of the synod for Indian Christians.

Fr Anbu studied Islam at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. He currently teaches in India’s major seminaries and is the secretary of the Islamic Studies Association (ISA), an organisation set up to build bridges between Muslims and Christians in India. Every two years, ISA organises conferences in various parts of India to help Catholics understand Islam in lectures given by Muslim scholars.

The Middle East Synod, which will be held at the Vatican, on 10-24 October 2010, is an initiative of the Catholic Church to promote, maintain and establish a good relationship with Middle East countries.

India as a good neighbour to these Middle East countries, with the presence of a large number of Indian Christians in these countries, I am sure that the forthcoming synod would help our Indian Christians to reflect more deeply their call to live a life of commitment and total dedication. It is in the sense of their call to be a good neighbour to them (Lk, 10:25-37), and by being sensitive to their needy neighbours. As immigrants, our Indian Christians learn to be more adaptable and acceptable to the demands of the local situations keeping in mind human values and dignity. So I think, the Synod is a welcoming initiative from the part of the Church, and the deliberations and the teachings of the Synod should trickle down to the grassroots.   

I hope greater awareness would be brought in among the Christians in India and Middle East. Christians are minorities in both the countries, but their presence in these regions are as old as Christianity itself. In India, we are dominated by majority Hindus and in the East, we are dominated by majority Muslims. But in spite of this fact, though we are numerically small, the powerful message of Jesus' love and forgiveness surpasses everything else. So the Synod should make us proud to be belonging to the traditions of such surpassing love and forgiveness and tirelessly work for peace and harmony in these regions. Christianity is not for the weak but for the strong, so we should not hesitate to shun any form of violence in the regions. The Synod will be a booster to carry the message of Jesus in a powerful way.

It is also pertinent to note that in the world at large, Christians and Muslims make up more than 55% of the world’s total population. So the contribution of these two groups towards peace and harmony in the world is very important. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace with each other, the world cannot be at peace. The very survival of the world very much depends on these two followers of faith.

The letter urges them to forget the past historical differences and enter into a new relationship based on love, harmony and peace. Through the letter of 138 Muslim scholars [1], a new attitude has emerged and it is considered as a highly significant one in the history of dialogue between Muslim-Christian dialogue in the world. The content of the letter is on the love of God, on the love of neighbour and on common word between Christians and Muslims. The letter has a strong biblical and Qur‘anic basis. It brings out the similarities between these two Semitic religions. Indeed, it is a beautiful gift, reminding us of our common faith in one God. This common belief in God the creator and sustainer enables us to feel related to one another at the very deepest level of our being.  The letter also brings out certain differences between these two religions, but the differences are to be viewed as challenges rather than obstacles to mutual appreciation. The Common Word must be taken up in the Major Seminaries for further study and reflections. Seminars could be organized. It should also be taken up by the religious, priests and the laity as part of their ongoing formation. The letter itself could be translated into various Indian languages, so that it could be read/studied by ordinary people. Wherever I go for classes, I do make a mention of the Common Word. I know it is not sufficient. A lot has been done and much more will have to be done in Muslim - Christian dialogue.

In India, Christians and Muslims are only a minority. Together we form about 15% of more than 1 billion Indians, most of whom are Hindus. In this context, the letter is relevant that the followers, who surrender themselves to one transcendent God, should not give into any human made realities. We are to work together to bring about changes in the society, to build a truly inclusive Indian society. In the wake of Hindu Fundamentalism and saffron violence, the two communities should come together and show to others that religious violence is detrimental to the existence of peace and harmony.


[1] see Samir Khalil Samir SJ, “The Letter of 138 Muslim scholars to the Pope and Christian Leaders,” in AsiaNews, 17 October 2010
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