01/31/2006, 00.00
INDIA – VATICAN
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"Deus caritas est": Christians help in disguise to avoid persecution

Msgr Barwa, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, shares his comments on the encyclical: "The Pope's letter explains the mainspring that inspires us to good, despite the violence of Hindu nationalist."

Ranchi (AsiaNews) –  In Ranchi, charity "has to be done under a false name" because the majority of people adhere to the principles of Hindutva nationalism and "wish to be neither helped nor even touched by Christians."  Monsignor Vincent Barwa, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, capital of the north-western state of Jharkhand (a mainly tribal region), spoke to AsiaNews  about the impact that Deus caritas est is having among Indian Catholics and how "charity here has to be done under disguise."

"Our young people," he explained, "are drawn to offering charity, but with time we have come to understand that even just having a Christian name can be a problem and a risk here: to carrying out charitable works, we sometimes have to use Hindu names."  Nor are there easy solutions in other fields. "Young people," the Bishop added, "face very high unemployment levels due to a continuous discrimination campaign against Christians.  In this case, we cannot just ignore the problem or get around it, but we must take it into account and try to do something to improve this state of affairs."

In this context, the papal letter is "a universal document and many Indian Catholics have appreciated it: at the same time, however, many do not understand its scope, which instead explains how God's love is the mainspring that inspires us to offer charity despite the continuous violence to which we are submitted."

It is also a problem of education: "A part from those who have studied abroad, many do not simply understand the concepts expressed by Benedict XVI because there are many aspects that do not square with Indian traditions."  "We try," the Bishop went on to say, "to explain the papal message, in the local language and frame of reference.  We try to do this through courses at the diocese, but it is not easy.  There is no lack of interest, but the nationalists thwart our attempts."

The situation in the archdiocese and in the state in general is, in fact, "not good; our mission is a constant target, and the Church, and the Cardinal himself, are frequently criticized."  It was precisely here that, last September 12th, Father Agnos Bara, an assistant to the parish priest of Baba Bira, was killed "by right-wing nationalist extremists".  Fr Agnos was stabbed while he tried to defend various tribal protesters from the attack of a group of fundamentalists.

The following day, Cardinal Teleshpore Toppo, President of the Indian Bishops' Conference and Archbishop of Ranchi, had described Fr Agnos as a "martyr of peace."  That killing was "just the latest, glaring example of violence against the Catholic community.  Here, we are all looked upon suspiciously."

A "perhaps even deeper" form of violence is that exercised by the government against educational efforts in the area.  Last October, the state government approved a decree that orders accredited Christian schools to hire government officials as education directors.  "This is incredible," Bishop Barwa remarked, "because our work in education is appreciated and often represents the only chance for the poor and for women to improve their condition."  The archdiocese manages, in its area alone, 135 schools, including many vocational institutes.

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