06/15/2022, 17.48
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Bishop of Pune calls for dialogue with Hindu nationalist RSS

by Nirmala Carvalho

Thomas Dabre spoke to AsiaNews after some Christians reacted negatively to his address at an event organised by right-wing Hindu nationalists who are increasingly accused of intolerance towards other religions. Jesus “loved the Jewish people,” the bishop said. “On that basis I made the point that Jesus was a patriot”. A meeting point can be found since Catholics and Hindu nationalist share the same love for their land and culture.

Pune (AsiaNews) – A Catholic bishop reached out to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS[*]), a Hindu nationalist organisation known for its saffron-coloured flags.

Last Sunday in Pune, the cultural capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra, the local bishop, Mgr Thomas Dabre, took part in the launch of the Social Science Journal, a quarterly journal published by the Shripati Shastri Research Institute of Social Sciences, which is linked to the Hindu religious right.

“The RSS had published a periodical to promote research on matters Indian,” said the prelate, a former member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a former president of the Office for the doctrine of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. “They flashed my two-page message in their front page” and “invited me to attend the programme,” he told AsiaNews.

“In the meetings of the Indian bishops I have always said that we must engage them in dialogue. The late Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur wanted this dialogue, but he left us prematurely. Nothing has happened since then.

“I personally maintain good relations with the RSS. I have forged bonds of friendship with them and it was an honour for me that they published my message. I want to act as an intermediary between the Catholic Church and them because Pune is the main centre of the RSS ideology.”

In his address, Bishop Dabre said that love for country unites the RSS and the Christian community, remarks that have been widely reported by the media and that aroused some negative feelings among Indian Christians, especially at a time growing intolerance on the part of Hindu nationalists towards religious minorities.

“I am reading all the reactions. It is like a storm in a teacup,” Bishop Dabre explained. “The reactions are most probably based on ignorance on what I exactly meant and what exactly is the RSS trying to say.

“If people are saying that RSS values are opposed to Gospel values, I would like to know which RSS values are opposed to Gospel values.”

As for his position, he said that when he spoke at the launch he insisted on “a need for a dialogue between the RSS and the Church in order to clear the misunderstanding and prejudices on either side. Have those who are creating the controversies ever talked to the RSS? Do they know the RSS?”

“I think the principles of the RSS should be acceptable to Christianity because Jesus himself was a patriot: he loved the Jewish people; he loved the Jewish culture. On that basis I made the point that Jesus was a patriot and his followers should also be patriots.”

In “the Holy Bible it is written that God gave the Jews the land of Israel, so He gave every Nation their land with fixed boundaries. It is in Deuteronomy, 32, Isiah, 34, and also in the Psalm that God has distributed land among all the people.”

This is why, “we Christians love our country and are patriots”, which “are the principles of the RSS: love of the land, love of the people and love of culture. In this context I said the principles and values of the RSS are acceptable to us Christians.”

At the launch, “I praised them”, saying “that their approach is quite correct and that everything should be research based. I told them that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is in poverty, and with  widespread superstition, in such a situation we need objective facts”, which “will be brought to light by research.”

[*] National Volunteer Organisation.

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