By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: About 200 Catholic bishops from all over India will gather in Bengaluru in early February to review the Church’s works of mercy and witnessing of Christian faith in current situation in the country.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has chosen “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages” (Mat.28:20) United in diversity for a Mission of Mercy and Witness” for its 33rd general body meeting to be held at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru, capital of Karnataka state.
Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro will lead the opening Mass on February 2. The chief guest at the opening session is Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar. The plenary will end on February 9.
The biennial plenary is taking place at a time when the Church in India is facing “immense challenges to serve and witness,” says a press release from CBCI headquarters.
“The Church has been one of the greatest promoters of unity in diversity. But groups and organizations wishing to promote cultural and religious nationalism are becoming bolder,” notes the press statement from CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas
The bishops say incidents of mob lynching on the pretext of cow smuggling, cow slaughter or beef eating have created a fear psychosis in certain sections of the population. “Killing of dissenting journalists, the recent mob attacks including an assault on a school bus full of children in protest against a movie are disturbing signs in our traditionally secular and largely peaceful society.”
The conference which represents more than 20 million Catholics spread over 174 dioceses in the country also cites violence against Christians such as attacks on carolers in Satna town of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and attempts by rightwing groups to storm a Catholic college in Vidisha, another town in the state to forcibly perform Hindu prayers “in the name of pseudo nationalism.”
These incidents have left the bishops worried and upset, says the press release.
At the same, the bishops say support from government authorities both at New Delhi and Madhya Pradesh has helped in keeping the situation under control. “However, the way the poison of communal, caste, and religious bigotism and hatred is being spread in the country is troubling and disquieting,” it adds.
At the same time, the Church reiterates it steadfast faith in the promise of Christ that he would be with his people. “The theme in its first part bases itself on Jesus’ assurance that he will accompany his Church at all times and in all circumstances. This is what gives it strength and courage in its mission of service and witness to all humankind.”
The bishops will discuss how the Church can be the leaven in the dough so that all men and women of good will, cutting across religious, social and political lines can unite to preserve the secular fabric of the country and uphold the constitutional values, the press statement says.
The bishops will also deliberate on how the Church can continue to witness the love of Jesus Christ and selflessly serve the nation. Reflections will veer around finding new ways of partnering the governments at the state and central level in nation building and developmental projects with a special concern for the dalits, tribals and the marginalized. The Church wishes to actively involve itself in open and full dialogue with followers of all religions and ideologies so that together we can promote peace and harmonious living.
The plenary is expected to elected the president and two vice presidents of the bishops’ conference for a two-year term. The current president is Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church. The post of president rotates among the three rites in India — Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara. The plenary is expected to elect a Latin prelate to head of the Catholic Church in India for the next two years.