Archbishop of Gandhinagar on the Jubilee of Mercy and anti-conversion legislation
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The task "Christ has given us is to go among the people and put ourselves at the service of others. However, serving others has become a challenge. The Church in Gujarat needs to do its work in caring for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. It has to give itself to the people it works for,” said Mgr Thomas Ignatius Macwan, archbishop of Gandhinagar, as he reflected upon the rigid anti-conversion law in force in the state. The latter prevents Hindus from converting to another religion without a judge’s permission.
"We must be able to carry out our ministry with the firm knowledge that the Lord is with us," the prelate said. To this effect, "We are looking for a way to resolve the issue. Jesus is mercy and the Year of Mercy speaks to the core values of the Gospel, the Church and its mission. We seek justice for everyone but, as Pope Francis reminds us, justice is only the beginning. The real goal is mercy."
Speaking of the current challenges the Church faces in the state, the archbishop noted, "We are free to celebrate our functions without restrictions. Even government officials are very helpful to us. Year after year, we have opened many religious places in Gujarat, which has four dioceses. Here the Church is thriving."
However, freedom of worship is not enough. "Difficulties arise in the case of the baptism of catechumens,” he explained, “because the draconian laws passed by the then government of Narendra Modi prevent us from welcoming the newly baptised into our communities, unless a judge gives his consent."
An anti-conversion law is in force in Gujarat that is a real "attack on religious freedom." Approved in 2003 when Modi was the state’s chief minister, and amended in 2006 to add more restrictive provisions, the legislation is designed especially to prevent conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.
If a Hindu wants to become a Christian, he or she must ask a district magistrate for permission. Otherwise, the conversion is null and void. Police constantly monitor Christian institutions, going so far as to check baptismal records. No verification is done if people convert to Hinduism. Religious legislation goes against mercy.
"On the one hand, we have the Eucharistic Lord; on the other, we have the mission to serve the Lord through our poor brothers and sisters,” Mgr Macwan said. “Mercy is seen in our actions of love towards the poor, the homeless, the sick. This Year of Mercy and the recent Eucharistic Congress encourage us to go into the world and love the poor and the needy with greater enthusiasm, for this is what the Lord wants."
Speaking about the National Eucharistic Congress held in Mumbai on November 12-15, the archbishop said, "It was really a great experience of communion of the Church in India, with many bishops coming from the country’s 113 dioceses ".
"For me it was a moment of real enrichment,” he said in concluding. “I came home excited and happy. The congress deeply touched my heart, and focused attention on my ministry, since I myself need to be close to the Eucharistic Lord. When we accept Christ within us, the promise he made us is met, ‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. "