10/17/2009, 00.00
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Cardinal Toppo: Tribals, saved by Christ and opposed by Hindu extremists

by Nirmala Carvalho
Indian missionary to Congress, being held in Muambai, archbishop of Ranchi, speaks of the importance of the Christian mission among the tribal peoples and their liberation from slavery. Evangelization is not so much "doing something" rather a way of "being."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Church is missionary, and this mission is directed to non-Christians and especially to the poorest of the poor, the tribals and dalits, always exploited and oppressed in Indian society. This mission is not primarily "doing", but "being". The task of the 18 million Catholics in India is "to illuminate our whole country." So says card. Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, commenting on the themes of the Indian Missionary Congress (Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav) being held in Mumbai, entitled "Let your light shine." The Cardinal hopes that Catholics in the country can return home "transformed" by the Days in Mumbai, "aware" of the revolution brought by Christ into their lives and even of the hatred that this may provoke in others. Below card. Toppo’s declaration to AsiaNews.

 What does it mean to be the first tribal cardinal of India?

It means being a symbol of the importance of evangelization of the tribal population. And this also means having to deal with the more extreme supporters of Hinduism, members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who often railed against me and periodically burn my images. My story, that of tribal Christians, proves that the Church promotes a development that begins and ends with the affirmation of the integrity of the human person created in the image of God and endowed by God with dignity and inalienable rights. The tribal Christians are an important part of our country's history and the history of the Church in India, which began 2 thousand years ago with the Apostle Thomas, who first made known Christianity to us.

What role has the Church among the tribal population?

The tribal Church is young in India. Faith in Jesus, fuelled by social and educational work of the early missionaries, has freed and transformed me and my people, making us aware of our dignity and helped our integration into society. The Catholic Church has established itself firmly in the tribal areas of India and this phenomenon may be remembered by history as the "miracle of Chotanagpur" which occurred 150 years ago now.

As how did this "miracle" come about?

Fr. Constant Lievens, a Jesuit known as the Apostle of Chotanagpur came and evangelized the oppressed and exploited tribes in the central regions of India: people like the Mundas, Hos, Oraons or Kharias, surely the poorest of the poor people living well below the poverty line and with a very low life expectancy. Many of them were illiterate, subjugated and reduced to slavery by the zamindars, the landlords; victims of usurers. They were a group of bodies rather than a people, people without a creed, mercilessly submissive whose desire to live was reduced to dust. But when they accepted Jesus, they began to grow once again with Him in baptism. And now they are a people of God with a voice, an awareness of themselves, able to fight for their rights.

So the Indian Church to be herself must be missionary?

The Church must be ad gentes, evangelization is not so much a question of Doing but Being, the presence of Christian witness attracts people, imagine if the 18million Catholics of India, lived our faith authentically, we would illuminate India!”


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