Cardinal Gracias: The Indian Churches’ mission for religious freedom and human rights
by Nirmala Carvalho
On the occasion of World Day for Human Rights, the Archbishop of Mumbai speaks of Indian society and the commitment of the Catholic world. Recalling that human rights must be based on the teachings of the Gospel: that God is our Father and that all Indians are brothers and sisters that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Freedom of religion and violence against it is a matter of human rights." Strongly affirms Card. Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, to AsiaNews on the occasion of World Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10 last. In India, violence against Christians and Dalits, often perpetrated by Hindu nationalist forces are on the agenda, although India is a pluralistic democracy and its Constitution enshrines equal rights for all its citizens, without distinction of religion or caste. Recently, cases like the murder of Sister Valsa, the Catholic religious committed to defending the religious rights of tribal Jharkand against the local coal mafia, or the arrest of an Anglican pastor Khanna in Kashmir, guilty of having baptized seven young Muslims, invite the public to reflect on the climate of discrimination against Christians and Dalits (and connivance of the authorities with the criminals) that pervades some Indian states. According to the Archbishop the Catholic Church's first task is to continue in her ministry of justice and peace, advocating religious freedom for all communities. Below, Card. Gracias interview with AsiaNews.
Eminence, December 10th was World Day for Human Rights. A comment on the murder of Sister Valsa and religious freedom in the country, after the arrest of the Anglican pastor.
Human rights have as their basis the teachings of the Gospel: That God is our Father and that all Indians are our brothers and sisters that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. This is the commitment to make, this is our mandate; to ensure that all enjoy the freedom that the Lord has given us. No society, state or community can infringe on that principle. We must fight tirelessly to protect human rights. This is the first of our tasks to improve and build society, the mission of God's people to promote justice in the world. I feel that we in India must be aware of our rights.
The violence against Sister Valsa and religious freedom are matters of human rights. Everyone has the right to decide their own religion, how to pray God, what he of she believes or thinks. No one can enter in the depths of the consciousness of others and dictate terms to follow. Therefore, there is still much to do and our work is still unfinished. It is our commitment to society.
You have often spoken of religious freedom. What is the most urgent need in this field?
We should not be hindered in our proclamation of the Good News, because it is our God given right to believe want to believe and also it is enshrined in our Constitution. But it is in the nature of man and therefore I think we should fearlessly, go ahead and defend our right to freedom of conscience and choice. It is essential that the we defend not merely the right of the Christian communities but everywhere, wherever religious freedom is being trampled upon. We should be champions of human rights for all communities
What is the current condition for Dalit Christians?
Unfortunately, the Presidential Decree of 1950 discriminates against our Dalit Christians. While we are striving to ensure equal rights to our brothers and sisters Dalit Christians and Muslims, they face even more terrible discrimination. Society looks down on them, some of them are ostracized. Instead, those who discriminate against Dalits must understand that they are God's children too, the Dalits should be given the opportunity to serve our country, the inequalities that exist should disappear, they should be integrated into society and live in righteousness.
Your Eminence, we speak of the Church's Indian human rights.
A document, entitled "Justice in the World", highlights three important aspects of Christian life, which recognize that "the peoples and nations who suffer injustice are voiceless and unheard. The Church must be prepared to take on new functions and responsibilities in a global society, to create broader justice. "
The theme of the next meeting of the Indian bishops' conference is "The Churches role for a better India" and issues of human rights, promotion of peace, justice and development are the key to making India a better country. This Commission for justice, peace and development has a significant role to play. We hope to give an important boost to our apostolate of justice and peace, in a more structured way, to be more effective.
Several dioceses in India have set up a Commission for Justice and Peace. The vision of the ministry of justice and peace is inspired by God's plan for the world and invites all Christians to work for a just humanity. The objectives of the Ministry are: to help groups and individuals to be aware of suffering, injustice, division and violence in our society, raise awareness about the causes of suffering and poverty, and recognizing the social implications of the faith, encourage people to work for a fairer society where fundamental human rights of everyone to have food, water, housing, education, employment, health and civic and political participation are met; help the Church in proclaiming the faith and the promotion of actions for justice and peace in support of poor, marginalized, disadvantaged and oppressed. Our Archdiocese has been blessed with the Commission for Justice and Peace for the past 20 years.