Archbishop Kalist installed in Pondicherry while Dalit protests continue
by Nirmala Carvalho

The new archbishop was installed last Friday, but his appointment is still rejected by some because he is not a Dalit. A local Dalit group organised a protest announcing that it was taking the case to the Indian government and India’s Supreme Court.

Pondicherry (AsiaNews) – The new archbishop of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, Mgr Francis Kalist, was officially installed last Friday; however, his appointment remains controversial.

Before he was chosen by Pope Francis to head the archdiocese, the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) demanded that a Dalit prelate be selected to lead the archepiscopal see, which is located in Tami Nadu, a state where Dalits represent the overwhelming majority of the Catholic community.

Archbishop Kalist, 64, is the former bishop of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. His new assignment to the sensitive see of Pondicherry-Cuddalore was announced on 19 March.

He led the solemn Eucharist marking his installation Friday afternoon in the courtyard of the Petit Seminaire Primary School, in the presence of the apostolic nuncio to India Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli.

However, the entry of the new archbishop was not enough to ease the tensions. On the very day that Archbishop Kalist assumed office, the DCLM held a protest.

During the rally, it harshly criticised the bishops of the Indian state and the apostolic nuncio. The group continues to demand the resignation by the new archbishop; their complaint is that only one local bishop out of 18 is Dalit.

In a statement, DCLM president M. Mary John says that like Jesus, Dalit Catholics are victims of a betrayal, and that they have been “denied their rights and marginalized in the Catholic Church.”

Because of this, “We have lost confidence in the Catholic religious authority. So from now on we are going to raise these issues of casteism, untouchability and caste discrimination with the government and the constitutional authorities in the country.”

The statement adds, “We have been restrained for decades in taking such action, but now it is only proving to be negative to our cause.” To rectify the situation, “We will also write to the Supreme Court of India on this serious issue.”

The DCLM also cited the request for forgiveness Pope Francis made to delegations representing Canada’s Indigenous peoples on 1 April “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church” vis-à-vis their members in that country.

Now, “It is time that the India’s Catholic hierarchy comes forward to apologize to the Dalits in the Catholic Church for the centuries-long caste discrimination they suffered and make suitable reparation.”

The letter ends with an “appeal to Pope Francis to make a special visit to India soon, specifically with this main focus” in mind.