Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The “third millennium belongs to the Church in Asia.” It should not fear the governments of men, but should focus instead on the light of Christ, which Easter renews and strengthens. This is why, especially in India, we should not fear to carry out our mission in broad daylight. We are a living reality, and live to serve the country and its people. This is the essence of Card Oswald Gracias’ reflection for Easter. The archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) spoke to AsiaNews on the occasion of Holy Week in order to send a message to India’s 18 million Catholics and their brothers and sisters across the Asian continent.
Your Eminence, in our country are people still suffering because of their faith?
In a few parts of India, our people are going through Good Friday. It is regrettable because this is not India. India is regarded as the cradle of great civilisations; unfortunately, our country’s pluralistic traditions are being challenged. Most often, these challenges are politically motivated. This does not bode well for our country, for its development, and for our image on the international stage. However, from a spiritual point of view, it is our turn to carry the cross and after the cross comes the glorious resurrection.
As leader of the Indian Church, what are your concerns for the Church in these times? What are the challenges?
In the mind of the average Hindu, a number of events have created a negative image of Christians, one in which we are seen as indulging in aggressive conversion. This is not only wrong but it generates a grossly distorted image of the Church. For me, it is important to correct such views. We want to proclaim Jesus. We want to make Christ known through our lives and our work. We work selflessly to make his Kingdom of God present. We only want to serve, do what Jesus told us to do, living out the Beatitudes, loving and serving everyone, making the world a better place. The Church is not a political party and is definitely not seeking power and prestige, or increase the number of the faithful in order to exert more influence.
How can we change this negative attitude towards the Church?
The Church in India makes a renewed commitment to mission and service. We will carry on our mission to serve selflessly, through our educational, health and welfare ministries, and build the nation. We shall do so without discrimination based on caste or creed, working especially for the marginalised, our country’s vulnerable brothers and sisters, the poorest of the poor. Let our strongest and biggest argument be our lives and our work.
I am so proud of our people, who are carrying the cross with such fortitude and fidelity. They are bringing many, many graces to our beloved country. The Church in India does not respond to accusations with anger, but with love and service. The Church is ever more committed to serving the country.
Your Eminence, I have been trying to get stories of catechumens baptised at the Easter vigil. However, most clergymen answer saying, “You know the political climate, we do not want to publicise baptisms”. What do you tell people who act like that?
Keeping a low profile on the baptisms of catechumens causes me much sadness primarily because it is a wrong image and this is bad for our country. It is an absolute shame. We, who are so proud of India’s glorious past and spiritual heritage, have to do things as if in hiding— this has been created in the minds of people and represents a limit on our religious freedom,. It goes against our constitution and human rights. It is unfortunate but it is happening.
I have emphatically stated that no government can enter my soul or imprison my conscience, telling me: “You cannot change religion!” Whenever catechumens have been baptised, it was their free choice, following a long process of preparation. Freedom of conversion is a right. As CBCI president, I make a renewed call to the government to ensure and guarantee the religious freedom our Founding Fathers enshrined in the constitution.
Forced conversions are meaningless and invalid for the Church, not only because the documents of Vatican Council speak clearly against them, but mainly because for Christians, conversion is primarily a transformation of the heart.
The Church imposes a long period of catechumenate to test the sincerity of those seeking baptism. The anti-conversion laws that exist in some states, whilst they may seem okay on paper, are most often used to harass and intimidate people who want to convert of their own free will.
Freedom of religion and freedom of conversion are human rights; they are a sacred right enshrined in our constitution. No civil authority has the right to enter the shrine that is the conscience of every person, let alone decide what his or her conscience should say. No government can come into my soul, stop my conscience, and tell me, “You cannot change your religion".
Given this scenario, what can we look forward to at Easter?
The Resurrection always infuses us with hope that Good will triumph over the forces of evil. The rays of light of Christ shine forth for us in India and for the Church, whose one desire is to serve and do good. We can never be discouraged. Good Friday is always followed by Easter and at Easter, new life breaks into our world and everything overflows with everlasting light. Every year, we are renewed by the Lord’s victory.
For the Church in India and Asia, Easter is a time to rejoice for the goodness, culture and religious vitality of our people. We are making an immense contribution to the Universal Church thanks to our members, our theological reflections and in many other ways. The Church in Asia is comparatively small, yet the light of Christ shines brightly and with renewed vigour upon it. The Church in Asia is unstinting in its joyful efforts to make Jesus known and loved. It does so by bearing witness through our lives and our service. This is the sign that the Resurrected Lord is with us, filling us with hope. In a certain way, the third millennium belongs to the Church in Asia where we look for the vitality of Christian life. God bless India!