03/20/2017, 16.26

Card Gracias tells Dalit leaders that the Catholic Church in India is 100 per cent with Christian Dalits

Nirmala Carvalho

The archbishop of Mumbai took part the meeting of the National Council of Dalit Christians. In India most Catholics are Dalits, 12 million out of 19 million. The Church has adopted new policies for greater integration.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church in India “is 100 per cent with Dalit Christians," Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, told the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) at a meeting held in Mumbai on Saturday in the presence of 45 leaders from various Christian denominations.

"There were members of all the Christian Churches. It was an ecumenical meeting,” Fr Z Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Office of Scheduled Castes-Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), told AsiaNews. “By participating, Card Gracias once again personally fostered and promoted a culture of mercy towards all of India’s Christian Dalits."

The cardinal assured those present that the Catholic Church hierarchy supported Dalit Christians in their quest for a solution to their problems. In fact, the bishops signed off on an action plan to help Dalit Catholics who represent the majority of the community, 12 million out of a population of 19 million.

The archbishop stressed the importance in ensuring their "freedom of religion, through the recognition of the status of Scheduled Caste,” which the Indian Constitution grants to disadvantaged groups.

"God created us equal,” Card Gracias added defending the dignity of every individual as a human person. “Separation is due to man, and is the result of his selfishness. Men go so far as to justify injustice by distorting Christian teachings. God gives grace to all people, both Dalits and non-Dalits. He sends rain to both Dalits and non-Dalits. The Lord does not discriminate."

In its new plan for Dalits adopted last year, the CBCI admitted for the first time that Dalits have been the victims of discrimination and abuse.

The cardinal had addressed the issue some years ago. On that occasion, he expressed closeness to disadvantaged castes, saying “With you, I am Dalit, and when you suffer so do I”. At the time, he had called on the government to Christian and Muslim Dalits to the list of Scheduled Castes. "Their exclusion,” he said, “is a gross violation of the Constitution of India."

In his view, “anti-poverty programmes need to focus on education, and must start right with Dalit.”  Insisting that "It's unfair that the government should discriminate against Dalits only on the basis of religion,” he noted that the Church "must promote religious vocations among the Dalits, so that they can lead to a transformation within the Church and society."

The issue is that more important during Lent according to Card Gracias because this “is a period of penance in which we have to transform our hearts, prepared to put into practice God’s love, and become merciful.”

For him, “Even the small miracle of divine mercy illuminates our lives as well as inspires us to love our neighbour, and to give ourselves in what the Church calls spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

Lastly, “These works remind us that faith is expressed in concrete daily actions, which result in helping one’s neighbours in body and in spirit: feeding them, visiting them, giving them comfort and education."

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