02/05/2018, 18.56
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Bishops in plenary assembly focus on nationalism, poverty and Dalits as India’s greatest challenges

The general assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India is currently underway in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Myanmar’s Card Bo praises Christian commitment to education and health. For him, "Poverty is the mortal sin of modern times". Dalits are bearers of a rich cultural heritage.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is currently holding its annual general assembly (2-9 February) with, as its main theme, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the ages” (Mt, 28:20) United in diversity for a Mission of Mercy and Witness’. Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon (Myanmar), is the guest of honour.

The focus of the gathering is on the type of nationalism that tends to erase the country’s pluralistic identity, on the global struggle against poverty, and on the inclusion of marginalised Dalits.

In his opening address, Card Bo praised the Indian Catholic Church. “India owes a lot to the Catholic Church,” he said. “Millions are touched by your services. You are the face of the compassionate Jesus to the poor and the broken,” he told his fellow bishops.

This year is the 33rd Plenary Assembly of the CBCI, held at the St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, in Bengaluru (Bangalore), the capital of the State of Karnataka. It is set to choose its president and two vice presidents, plus the members of various committees.

The CBCI ranks fourth in the world in terms of bishops: 204 divided in three different rites – Latin, Syro-Malankara, Syro-Malabar – in 174 dioceses.

Speaking on the opening day, Card Bo said that the Indian “Church is a great driver of the social sectors.”

“Though less than 2 per cent of the Indian population*, your socio-pastoral achievements are the great envy to many. [. . .] Your contribution to the building of this nation through education and health is astounding. At least 10 million students enter your institutions every day. 25 per cent of education is in the hand of the Church. In many places of India, it is the church that has opened opportunities to the most vulnerable communities.”

With respect to health care, “I heard around 20 per cent of the health care [provided] to the most vulnerable is done by the Church. The Catholic Church has offered the service of an army of volunteers: nearly 110,000 sisters and around 60,000 men full time for the pastoral and social development of this nation."

Precisely because of these numbers and the great work, "The identity of the religious and cultural minorities are threatened by narratives of hatred [. . .]. India as a nation faces an existential crisis.”

For the cardinal, right-wing religious fundamentalism “is threatening the minority communities, [and] is a grave danger to the very idea of India. Protecting multi-cultural societies is becoming a sacred duty of all of us.”

"Poverty,” Bo added, “is the biggest [form of] terrorism and evil that needs to be fought by the Church.” It “is the mortal sin of modern times.” For this reason, he cannot bear to know that “nearly a billion go to bed empty stomach. [. . .] We need a world war,” not against “Trump”, but a “third and final world war - a world war against poverty, [and] injustice.”

Fr Maria Arul Raja, a Jesuit activist, spoke yesterday. He stressed the need for social inclusion of Dalits and reiterated their rights in society and the Church.

He explained that the bishops approved an action plan for Catholic Dalits in 2016. The latter are about 12 million Catholics out of a total of 19. He stressed that the CBCI had the courage to end “the evil practice of untouchability”, confident that it can annihilate the caste system.

Fr Raja praised the bishops, who admitted that Dalits are still under-represented in the Church hierarchy, that their voice “must be heard in all decision-making bodies". Moreover, Dalit cultural heritage and traditions “should be integrated in liturgical and para-liturgical celebrations.”

On the sidelines of the CBCI meeting, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), the Conference of Bishops of Latin rite, held its 30th assembly with 183 prelates from 132 dioceses.

Card Oswald Gracias, who is CCBI president and archbishop of Mumbai, stressed the responsibility of Christians in India to present the values of the Gospel in society and help people live them by eradicating corruption, prejudices, the exploitation of tribal and Dalit communities, and fostering truth, justice and selflessness.

*In total Catholics number 27.8 million according to the 2011 census, 19 million of whom are Catholics.

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