By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Indian Vice President Venkiah Naidu on December 12 commended Christians for their service to those on the periphery and share in building a new India.
“The Catholic community is peace-loving and it contributes immensely to nation building,” the vice president told a gathering that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) organized to launch Christmas celebrations in the national capital.
“I have been attending Christmas functions at different parts of India as part of my political and social activities. This is the first occasion as the vice president of India that I am participating in a Christmas celebration,” said Naidu, who assumed the second highest office in the country on August 11, this year.
The vice president asserted that Jesus’s message for love and peace is for all seasons, cultures and nationalities. “People all over the world irrespective caste, creed or nationality celebrate Christmas with great joy and gaiety,” the vice president, the chief guest of the program, told the gathering comprising religious, political and social leaders as well as diplomats and media persons.
Christian community, especially Catholics, work for people’s welfare. “They maintain best educational institutions in the country that create awareness about the need for education and education for the needy.”
Christians have opened thousands of dispensaries and hospitals in remote areas and collaborate with the central and state governments. “The Christian community as a whole is assiduously engaged in contributing their share in building a new India which is united and strong,” the vice president said and added that he has personally witnessed how Christian helped in social transformation through formal and non-formal education.
“Education is the most important tool for social transformation. It helps impart values compassion, morality and ethics,” the vice president told the gathering held at the Community Hall of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church that sits between two top Catholic schools in New Delhi – Columba’s and the Convent of Jesus and Mary.
The 68-year-old national leader urged Christians to continue their service with an added focus on the marginalized sections of society.
Christmas, the festival of love and joy caring and sharing, is time to renew commitment to serve family, community and society, work for social and economic inclusion of all, and promote lasting peace, he added.
The Christmas message of peace is relevant in these days when people misuse religion. “If you have tension, there cannot be any progress,” the vice president said. He also asserted that no religion preaches hatred or violence
“Religion has nothing to do with terror. Terror is the enemy of humanity,” he said.
The vice president also urged the gathering to distinguish between religion and culture. Religion, he explained, is worship and personal whereas culture is a way of life where people love, share and take care of each other. Explaining further he said, “Suppose you have a chapatti. If you eat the chapatti, it is prakriti (nature), if you snatch a chapatti from another it is vikriti (deviation) and if you share your share with another it is sanskriti (culture).”
He wants every individual to respect, preserve and protect our culture and use the Christmas season to correct “our deviations if any” and spread the message of love through action.
He wants the government, enlightened people, communities and their leaders to help the suppressed and the oppressed come up in life to realize Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of “antiodaya” (rise of the last person).
CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, while felicitating the vice president, reiterated the Catholic community’s commitment to the welfare of the country and its people.
“We offer our best wishes, prayerful support, deep commitment even through martyrdom to take the nation to its height of glory,” said the cardinal who hailed the vice president as “a close friend” of every community in the country.
The 58-year-old cardinal, who also heads the Syro-Malankara Church, said the Christian community is in India to give its service to the poorest of the poor.
“The Church India is at the service of the nation. People in the periphery need the Lord’s assurance,” he added.
He urged the government to take necessary steps to bring peace and progress to every citizen going beyond manmade boundaries. The head of the Indian Catholics reminds his countrymen that it is up to them to assure the world that diversity is not an obstacle, but the beauty of divine life.”
The cardinal also used the occasion to request the vice president to press the government to declare the recent Ockhi cyclone as a national disaster. The cardinal, who comes from Thiruvananthapuram, one of the worst affected by the November 30 cyclone, noted thousands of fishermen in southern coastal region have lost everything “except their faith in God.”
He stressed the need for satisfying, stable and long term plan to rehabilitate the affected families.
The cardinal later told Matters India that the vice president promised to take up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The prelate said he has visited the affected areas twice and that the Church plans various ways to help the families.