07/03/2022, 14.29
ECCLESIA IN ASIA
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Indian Christian Day

by Nirmala Carvalho

On 3 July, feast day of Saint Thomas, Indian Christians of all denominations celebrate a day to remember that Christianity is not a foreign religion in their country. This year takes on a special significance since it is the 1,950th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Apostle in Chennai. “May Saint Thomas the Apostle help us to be strong in our faith,” said Archbishop Poola, chosen by Pope Francis to be a new cardinal.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Starting last year, Christians of all denominations mark 3 July as Yeshu Bhakti Divas, Indian Christian Day.

This year the event takes on particular significance since the date marks the 1,950th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Apostle Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, who, according to tradition, arrived in India in 52 AD and was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD.

Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, a prelate of Dalit origin who will be made cardinal by Pope Francis in the consistory of 27 August, explains the meaning of this anniversary in a video message sent to AsiaNews.

"Millions of Christian Indian followers of Jesus Christ join in observing this Jubilee anniversary,” the prelate says. This is an “annual day of remembrance by the Indian followers of Jesus Christs to celebrate the person and the message of Jesus Christ, which was brought to India in 52 AD by one of his 12 disciples, Saint Thomas, the Apostle of India.

“This is for us: proclaim, like him, with courage, with renewed vigour and strength, the strong message of Christ. May the Christian Unity Day on 3rd July and on every day of our life become a true witness of Christ’s love.

“On behalf of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, I wish all of you, peace, happiness, unity, prosperity and good health. May Saint Thomas the Apostle help us to be strong in our faith. God bless you all.”

First celebrated in 2021 from an idea expressed by members of the various Churches of the country, Indian Christian Day is meant to stress the fact that Christianity is not a foreign religion in India.

“Indian Christian day celebration was an idea born of the need to remove first of all the misconception that Christianity in India is a European religion and, secondly, to assert our historical and cultural rootedness in India,” said Fr Babu Joseph SVD, speaking to AsiaNews.

For the former spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), it is not just a matter of pride in one's roots.

“This is all the more significant in the contemporary socio-political context where misconstrued narratives about the Christian community is pushed to the front through the media,” he explains.

“The public has a right to know the truth and it is a humble effort to make ourselves known for the right reasons.” Hence, “We have come up with this idea of celebrating India Christian day.”

“We learnt to assert that we are part and parcel of this great country and our services are always and everywhere meant to promote our fellow sisters and brothers.

“India, Jai Bharat, is a melting pot” of various faiths and cultures, he adds, “for instance, the food habits of Syriac Christians of Kerala, their clothing, celebrated festivals have absorbed Hindu aspects”.

“Similarly, tribal Christians have accepted the Christian faith but continue to live their culture. The architecture of some churches, shrines, some of the rituals associated with birth, marriage and death are also synchronised with Hindu customs.”

Indian Christian Day is also a time to reflect on one's own history and on the wounds that must still be healed, this according to Fr Devasagaya Raj M. Zackarias, former national secretary of the Episcopal Commission for disadvantaged castes.

“Christianity is as old as any other religions in India,” he reminds AsiaNews. “It started in 52 AD when Saint Thomas arrived in India. Unfortunately, it remained with the so-called upper caste people and it never reached the backward castes and the Dalits.

“Only when the European missionaries arrived in the 16th century did it start to spread among these people. Jesuit missionaries divided themselves into Brahmana Sanyasis (to serve upper caste Christians) and Pandara Samigal to serve lower caste people).

“This division still continues in Tamil Nadu churches. There are two cemeteries, two churches and in many churches, Dalits cannot be altar servers or choir members. Processions are not taken to the Dalit streets.”

Still, for Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, 3 July is everyone's day. “We tribal Christians are disciples of Jesus, we are devoted to Jesus, we love Jesus,” he said.

“Christianity is not something foreign to tribal people and communities. We live the Gospel values in our daily lives. The tribal Church observes this day with gratitude for the faith.

“I am a tribal Oraon and we believe in the Supreme God who is all powerful,” the prelate explained. “Our tribal Culture cannot be separated from faith; our culture is related to faith.”

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