Ahmedabad (AsiaNews) - Cedric Prakash, SJ, is director of Prashant, a Jesuit Centre for human rights, justice and peace in Ahmedabad. He wrote this comment for AsiaNews on the legacy of John Paul II for the Indian Church and India.
It is indeed significant that Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1st, 2011 universally recognized as the International Workers Day or Labour Day! The coincidence whether unintentional or by design in several ways reiterates what John Paul II epitomized all his life.
From the time he wrote his path breaking Encyclical ‘Laborem exercens’ (On Human Work) in September 1981 till the end of his Pontificate in April 2005, John Paul II consistently highlighted Catholic Social Teaching and the need and importance of every Christian to respond to the realities that plague the world.
In 1987, his Encyclical ‘Sollicitudo Rei Socialis’ (On Social Concerns) called for a very clear solidarity with the poor and an option that every human being must have for them.
On 1st May 1991, he promulgated his Encyclical ‘Centesimus Annus’ (On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum). So exactly twenty years ago, in no uncertain terms, he reaffirmed the relationship between human dignity and human rights.
His messages each year for the 1st of January, a day which he assigned as a ‘World Day for Peace’, highlighted the relationship between human rights, justice and peace and in the words of Paul VI he always reaffirmed, “if you want peace, then work for justice”
What impact then does JP II’s social message have for us Christians in India today? If one does a careful analysis of his teachings, one will definitely find a distinct bias towards the poor, the exploited and those who are denied their basic human rights. For many, India today is “booming” but the hard reality is that large sections of our people, very specially the poor and the marginalized (in particular the dalits, adivasis and other vulnerable groups) have no access to basic amenities of life.
JP II called for a concerted response to alleviate the sufferings of the subalterns. The Church he felt must be visible, vocal and responsive to their plight. He called for the need of destroying “structures of sin” which constantly hinder the poor in their development. We still are at the level of “doing charity” in India.
His messages on peace were intrinsically linked to freedom and justice. In 2004, his message highlighted the four pillars of John XXIII’s ‘Pacem in terris’ mainly truth, justice, love and freedom. He condemned war-mongers and the growing use of armaments by countries all over the world. The defense budget for India grows rapidly and the greatest losers to this are social sectors like education, health, rural development which could greatly benefit the poor of the country.
John Paul II also took a stand on religious freedom. In 1986, his ‘Ecclesia in Asia’ rankled many in India. When he felt that people should be free to embrace the religion which they would like to. However, several of his critics at that time were unable to accept that he also condemned “dehumanizing underdevelopment and the over-development which tends to reduce the person to an economic unit in an ever more oppressive consumer network”.
Some lessons for us in India!
Of course he always sided with the working class. He was instrumental in liberating his own country: Poland from the clutches of totalitarianism by openly siding with the workers movement there. Some lessons for the Church in India to side with and accompany the people’s movements in the country today.
JP II was also regarded as the pro-life Pope. His strong stands on abortion and euthanasia are very relevant for a country which is not merely in the throes of a debate on these topics but in which growing sections of the population seem to accept the “inevitable”.
Above all, he championed the cause and the rights of the women and their dignity. Constantly emphasizing that both man and woman are created equal in the image and likeness of God. In several of his teachings, he highlights the importance of Mary as model and asks all to imitate her. Another lesson for us in India today!