04/30/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Catholics to vote for a fairer India, Mumbai Cardinal says

by Nirmala Carvalho
Oswald Gracias appeals again to Christians to go out and vote. The next government has two tasks to fulfill: to guarantee the separation of state and church and fight poverty.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – About 14 million voters are set to cast their ballot today for the lower house of India’s federal parliament, the Lok Sabha, in West Bengal and Maharashtra, two states that embody the two sides of today’s India, that of the poor and marginalised slum dwellers of Kolkata, the city of Mother Teresa and capital of West Bengal, and that of the shiny international showcase called Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra, the economic and financial hub of India, where voters must find an answer to the wounds opened by the terrorist attacks of last November.

To know more about it AsiaNews interviewed Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indian (CBCI). The Indian Church has repeatedly said that voting is important to the country’s future and Cardinal Gracias has appealed several times to India’s 17 million Catholics to go out and “vote all, and vote wisely.”

Mumbai’s cardinal wants everyone to vote because “voting is not just a right, it is also a duty. It is our job to choose the next government; therefore, we should choose the best people”. as “Christians are people of faith, I urge all our people to pray to God to give us a good government;” pray “at home, pray in your associations, pray at Mass. Saint Thomas urged Timothy to pray for the leaders of [his] society. In the same spirit and with the same faith we should pray that we get good leaders” as well.

Asked how the faithful ought to vote, cardinal Gracias said that “We need to vote for those who respect the Indian Constitution, enhance human dignity, protect human rights and secures justice for all. Only then can our country get even stronger, and take its rightful place among the comity of nations. We need to vote for people who are clean and are not tainted by corruption. This will ensure that we have leaders who will work selflessly for the country.”

These elections come at a crucial time for India, when the model of civic coexistence on which it built its modern history is shaken by ethnic tensions and religious violence, by the bloody impulses of Hindu nationalism and local separatist movements willing to use force in their fight.

Still the cardinal acknowledges that “in our times [. . .] so many express a feeling of insecurity” which is also “a time when there is a big rich-poor/urban-rural gap which is widening even more.”

Indeed the next government has many challenges ahead; among them is the defence of the separation of state and church.

“A good government,” Gracias said, “should be able to facilitate the spiritual growth of people and not hamper their growth.  A good government has a vital role to play in creating a selfless, caring citizen. [. . .] In a democracy, government is a means by which we can act together to protect what is important to us and promote our common values.”

Only by guaranteeing the plurality of traditions and cultures that define Indian society, can the country remain faithful to itself and contribute to today’s global society.

“India has a lot to offer the world,” the cardinal said. One of the most important contributions it can make to modern society is the preservation of the man’s spiritual dimension.

“Spirituality should animate every part of our life and lead people to reach out to serve the people, community and country,” he explained.

“I strongly believe that spirituality should result in that and therefore we should not forget our duty towards our nation. We should not be involved in only spiritual things but also with things that concern our government. We must now look towards the future. We must get a good government that will take the country forward.”

However, progress means fighting poverty and implementing inclusive policies for minorities. Discriminations and the gap between haves and have-nots have deeply scarred Indian society and weigh heavily on the country’s future. Only courageous and forward-looking policies can meet these two increasingly urgent challenges and ensure “that the benefits of our economic growth will reach all sections of our people.”

For Cardinal Gracias the first two rounds of elections are comforting signs. “Our election process is worthy of emulation,” he said. “I am so proud that there have been peaceful elections in our country in spite being a mammoth task for such a huge country, home to so many people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It seems to be a peaceful marching forward from one government to another, handing power from one leadership to another. It shows the maturity of our citizens and leaders.”

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