The archbishop emeritus of Guwahati looks at the pope’s words and gestures among Canada’s indigenous peoples through Indian eyes. “No more of that” also applies to Dalits, minorities, and the weakest groups in society who still experience abuse.
Guwahati (AsiaNews) – Archbishop Emeritus Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati spoke to AsiaNews about Pope Francis’s words and gestures during his visit to the indigenous peoples of Canada.
Speaking from the eastern Indian state of Assam, where Christianity has a long history of encounter with local tribal peoples, the prelate said that the pope “was setting an example and making us think.”
In his view, in today’s societies, “new types of social elimination” and “insensitivity” are emerging that affect minorities and the weakest groups, in ways that are different from those that prevailed during the colonial past.
Speaking from India, how do you feel seeing Pope Francis apologise to the tribal peoples of Canada?
It was truly moving that an ailing Pope Francis thought it a priority to make a “penitential pilgrimage”, as he called it, to Canada in order to ask the indigenous communities forgiveness for the insensitive harshness of many Christians towards them during the colonial era.
Certainly, the cruelties shown to the indigenous communities in the Americas in that period remain one of the most painful and humiliating chapters of human history.
The pope was asking for forgiveness in “deep shame and sorrow” on behalf of all of us who have shown ourselves insensitive to the sufferings of feebler individuals and communities in various contexts, even in our own days. He was setting an example and making us think.
We need to admire the communities that have learnt to be self-critical. “No more of that,” we cry. But in our own situations, we notice similar harshness vis-à-vis Dalits, minorities, and weaker sections.
We find new forms of extreme poverty arising; new types of social elimination taking on crueller expressions; and new styles of insensitivity deepening.
Such things happen no more in the name of colonial conquests or imperial interests, but for the sake of economic achievements or to be winners in trade wars.
From time to time, we need to bend our heads in “deep shame and sorrow”.
What do you think the Catholic Church in India must still do to really embrace the tribal way of life, traditions and spirituality?
Tribal communities in Eastern India were more fortunate in the colonial era than elsewhere.
The imperial authorities sought to protect their land against dominant groups, thus helping them preserve their culture and traditions.
Some colonial officials studied their culture in greater depth, wrote books on their lifestyles, and enabled them to acquire a better self-understanding and define their identity. Undoubtedly, they were fiercely attached to their identity.
The Church in Northeast India greatly served indigenous communities, assisting them to emerge from their self-isolation, and equipping them with education to find a new place in the emerging world without weakening their ethnic identity, or damaging their cultural heritage, or compromising their traditional values.
Tribal leaders in Northeast India have played prominent roles at the national level. Unfortunately, the “culture of opportunism” that presses hard on them today from dominant groups in a vicious political climate seems all set to undermine their traditional sense of community, solidarity, and social accountability.
It will be a mighty challenge for the Church to persuade the perceptive and sober-minded leaders among them to struggle against this danger.
The pope in Canada said that today indigenous people have more to teach us about caring and protecting the family. Is it true today in India too?
Pope Francis has amazing expressions like the “sapiential wisdom” of the masses and ordinary believers.
It is in line with this belief that we can say that indigenous communities the world over have something to teach today’s sophisticated society, namely a sense of community, equality, truthfulness, family values, social solidarity, openness to mutual correction, and respect for nature.
They seem to hear more clearly the cry of Mother Earth against our society’s “consumeristic excesses”.
Most of all, indigenous communities, unburdened with the memories of centuries of self-interested struggles among sophisticated societies, are ready witnesses to the “genuine human values” of sincerity, authenticity, sympathetic understanding, and committed solidarity.
They have much to teach societies that consider themselves more advanced. Hence, we pray that the Holy Father’s voice is not lost among the dominant social philosophies that echo round the world.