Indian Bishops: no to totalitarianism of culture, dialogue is the basis of democracy

The Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India ended yesterday. Its final statement  focuses on issues dear to the Catholic Church, like dialogue with nature, rights of the unborn, acceptance of different cultures and religions. “The different aspects of dialogue in the Bible are rooted in our faith in God as Trinity”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) ended its plenary assembly yesterday. In its final statement, it explains that dialogue is the “very essence of the Christian faith”, and must be the basis of democracy, which “cannot be built on monologue” whilst “dissent should not be misconstrued as un-patriotism.”

The long declaration adopted yesterday in Bengaluru (Bangalore) follows the focus of the meeting, namely ‘Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity’, and applies it to themes dear to the Catholic Church, such as nature, peace, and interfaith harmony.

The document goes on to say that “Nationalism, particularly in its most radical and extreme forms, is [. . .] the antithesis of true patriotism.” It appeals to “State authorities to ensure that pseudo nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of totalitarianism.”

On behalf of India’s Catholics, the prelates reiterate their opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament in December, which offers Indian citizenship to people who fled Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, except if they are Muslim.

In light of this, “we, the Catholic Bishops of India, affirm that religion shall not be a criterion for determining Indian citizenship. The authorities should come forward with sincere and effective means to erase the sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty spreading in the nation, especially among the religious minorities.”

More broadly, the bishops aredeeply concerned and anguished with what is happening” in the country, after months of protest and serious acts of violence, such as shots fired at protests, raids by police and radicals in universities, and the detention of many activists, including Catholics.

Despite this, “we are filled with hope inspired by faith and the innate goodness of all our fellow citizens. We appreciate the majority who uphold the secular values of our nation.”

The assembly agreed that “The hallmark of Indian society is its pluralism. From ancient times, India has been a mosaic of many religions, cultures and languages with a strong Indian identity. What unites us is stronger and deeper than what divides us.”

It also upheld the principles of “Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as enshrined in the Preamble” found in the constitution and define India as a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”.

For the prelates, “Various streams of thoughts running through the biblical texts enrich our understanding of the necessity of dialogue among peoples and cultures. Dialogue with other religions is integral to the Biblical Revelation. The different aspects of dialogue in the Bible are rooted in our faith in God as Trinity: God as the Creator of all, the universal presence of God’s Spirit, and Jesus as the Saviour of all mankind.”

What is more, “The Church encourages believers to respect each other and one another’s religious tradition, thus cooperating with one another to promote peace and harmony and work for the common good of all.” In light of this, dialogue between cultures and religions follow logically.

By contrast, “Attempts to homogenize and impose a mono-cultural pattern pose serious threats to the cultural patrimony of our country. As our Constitution envisions, there not be any meaningful dialogue of culture without acknowledging the primacy of human person.

“People of every culture and religion and those who profess no religion must be esteemed with mutual respect which eventually leads to human fraternity. No culture or religion shall dominate over other cultures and religions. Subduing certain cultures by the dominant culture will destroy the brotherhood and harmony existing in the country.”

Citing the Document on Human Fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar  Ahmed el-Tayeb, the bishops also note that “The enemy of fraternity is an individualism which translates into the desire to affirm oneself and one’s own group above others.”

Dialogue must instead continue with the poor, Dalit and tribal people who “are continually denied their human rights”. In fact, “dialogue with the poor shall not be limited only to the works of mercy. The term ‘the Church of the poor’ reflects the constant self-understanding of Christians that the poor stand in the place of Christ, and therefore charity and justice must be an essential and central dimension of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

And “The earth, our common home, which was created to support life and give praise to God, is crying out with pain because human activity is destroying it. All who believe in God and all people of good will have an obligation to protect the ecological equilibrium of the earth, intended by the Creator.”

Lastly, the bishops insist that “Dialogue should not be limited to those who are born; rather the right to life of the unborn must also be taken seriously into account.” Hence, reiterating Catholic doctrine that human life goes "from the womb to the grave", the bishops call on the authorities to “immediately withdraw” the new law which extends the abortion deadline to 24 weeks.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to the article)