Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "I am grateful to our Hindu brothers and sisters, because they supported and protected us. If they had not been by our side, we Christians would never have survived here in India", says His Beatitude Mar Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara church (Kerala, India). This is his first reaction to the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI on October 24 last, during the Synod of Bishops for the new evangelization that he will be created Cardinal. In addition to His Beatitude, five other prelates will receive the red hat, the ring and the title on November 24: Msgr. James Michael Harvey, Prefect of the Pontifical House, who will be appointed archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites (Lebanon), Msgr. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja (Nigeria), Msgr. Ruben Salazar Gomez, Archbishop of Bogota (Colombia), Msgr. Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines). On the occasion of the appointment, AsiaNews interviewed His Beatitude Mar Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal.
Your Eminence, you are the first cardinal of the Syro-Malankara Church and the seventh in India. What are your feelings in this regard and what value does this appointment have.
It is a great honor for our country, for several reasons. First, because ours is a nation that places great value on religious life and human life. Because all the different formulations of faith, and Christianity, live together in India. And despite being a minority, the Holy See recognizes the importance of the Church in India: the beatification of Mother Teresa says as much. [This appointment] is also an honor and a special recognition to the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, which has found full communion with the Holy See of Rome in 1930. Considering all these things, my appointment is a great sign of appreciation from the Holy See. More than one of my personal honor, an honor given to our Church and to our land. For this ministry, I feel it is very important to be part of the closest collaborators of the Holy Father for his role as pastor of the universal Church.
Your appointment came during the Synod of Bishops and in the Year of Faith. How is this significant and how are you addressing the challenges of the new evangelization.
This appointment was made during the Synod of Bishops, which focused on the theme of the new evangelization. The whole Catholic Church is involved in an action of prayer, to re-educate herself to the Gospel and the Word of God incarnate in a complete way. Bringing the Gospel to people an explicit way, with a living word: Jesus Christ. Presenting him, introducing him, talking about Him, about the absence of God from people's lives. It is a challenge for us as bishops, as collaborators of the Holy Father, as well as all the baptized. Every baptized Christian has the duty and the right to speak of Jesus Christ, because He brought God so close to us. We say "Emmanuel", "God is with us," moves with us. Such an explicit expression of God comes from Jesus Christ, to whom we must always pray. As said St. Paul, "If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe is me if I do not preach it"[1 Cor, 9:16], which means "it is not alright for me to remain silent" , "To me, it is right to speak of Jesus, who brought God so close to me."
A synopsis of this synod?
The Synod is over: the propositions were made, voted on and submitted to the Pope, who now will correct them, edit them, and then present them to the whole world and the Church. As for me, I think that the Synod has gone very well, because all the different parts of the Church have had the opportunity to walk together as the universal Church. We continue to have different rituals or ideas, but we think in a single way about the universality of the Church. This is the beauty of the Synod, and this aspect of lived communion with 262 Synod Fathers has been exemplary and inspiring.
Your Eminence, what is your view of the situation of religious freedom in India, and how would you explain the growing radicalization in the country.
Jesus Christ has brought us to lead a life of total dedication to God and to all those people who are loved by God. This is the relationship. And this relationship asks us to eradicate selfishness from within ourselves, to detach ourselves from those realities that threaten our relationship with God and his people. For us, this is a constant challenge. When I'm selfish, I can not see God. When I'm selfish, I can not see anyone else besides me, because I only care about myself. What is the biggest challenge for a believer? More than any external attack, the challenge comes from within us. Am I prepared to follow Jesus in my heart? [Because] the external difficulties can cause problems, they can slow you down, but in the end, comes the glorification of martyrdom. It is this aspect in particular that should be reconsidered, because to lead a Christian life, the greatest challenge starts inside of me. Then, [it is clear that] we have to deal with the widespread incidents and episodes of pain that we see happening in some parts of the world.
We Christians are in India for 2 thousand years, and are very happy to say that our apostolic Church founded by St. Thomas the Apostle, is a large Christian community made up of Catholics and non-Catholics, and it has grown. For this reason, I am very grateful to our Hindu brothers and sisters. They have supported us, protected us, more than the police and the army, because we Christians are only 2.5% of the population, and the majority of the population, 89% belongs to the Hindu community. If they had not been on our side, we would not have survived here in India. They were with us and are with us. Religious radicalism is a phenomenon that belongs to every religion and every person. We can not simply say "this community is a victim of radicalism, this other community is free from it." No. Religious radicalism is a sign of selfishness. When you alone are selfish, we can talk about selfishness. When a group of people are selfish, we are talking about communalism [term used in India to refer to violence by ultra-nationalist Hindu against other ethnic and religious communities, ed.] So, sometimes, when certain incidents occur in some parts of the world, people believe it is persecution based on religion. I believe we should always be very careful, because sometimes a small, local matter, which is based on other problems, can degenerate hidden behind religious reasons. This fundamentalism, this religious radicalism is much more selfish in all walks of life.
In India, we have to make an objective assessment of these 2 thousand years: we have had and still have a peaceful time, except in some places. We must understand each other. In some areas Christians have been under attack, but all these incidents we are also launching a message, to tell us how to welcome Jesus into this world. And not just in India, but everywhere. Rome is one of the most educated cities in the world, yet we can say that there is no religious freedom here. There is freedom to do anything, but if you talk freely about God and Jesus, you are treated as a minority. This shows that [the lack of religious freedom] is a phenomenon that can be found everywhere. I repeat, the biggest challenge for a believer comes from his or herself. This does not mean that we should not address or discuss all other violations. There must be dialogue, and we Christians must pray and find peaceful ways to live together.
AsiaNews has launched a campaign for the release of three bishops and six Chinese priests who disappeared in police custody or in prison without trial. What are your thoughts for these brothers in the episcopate who are in difficulty?
Whenever such incidents occur, they are very painful moments. I do not know the personally know thses men or their cases, but throughout history, the Catholic Church has been able to live and survive in different parts of the world. Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights of the human person, which can not be denied. If I speak of human dignity, [I must remember that religious freedom] is the heart of human dignity. I have the freedom to think, I to make choices, and to talk about what I believe in. Above all, I have a fundamental right to say I'm a believer. This must be respected. Any attack on this freedom violates human dignity. And when human dignity is trampled on, religious freedom is permanently lost. To prevent this from happening, and to defend the dignity of the human being, the Church, States, politicians and those in the front line must all work together. So that everyone in the world can enjoy full freedom of conscience and freedom of belief.