By Philip Mathew
Bengaluru: The Catholic bishops of India have asserted that the country and the Church require the services of each other.
“India needs the Church and the Church needs India,” bishops representing 174 Catholic dioceses in India declared on February 9 at the end of their weeklong biennial plenary in Bengaluru, southern India.
In a statement issued at the end of the 33rd general body meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the bishops highlighted the contribution of the Church to nation building and service to all Indians irrespective of religion, region, culture, race or language.
“No one should doubt our loyalty or our commitment to the nation,” the statement asserted.
They appealed for “true nationalism that can lead our motherland to genuine peace, harmony, progress and prosperity,” and added that “authentic nationalism respects the human dignity of every citizen.”
They called for “integral and inclusive development that percolates to every strata of our society.”
The bishops from across the country rededicated themselves to their mission of “feeding the hungry, comforting the disturbed, promoting the dignity of the marginalized, healing the sick, giving hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captives, forgiveness to the sinners, and justice to the poor.”
Representing all the Catholic ritual Churches in India, the bishops called all people of goodwill to uphold the rule of law guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and shun mob culture and vigilantism in favor of peace.
“Anxiety” is the word the Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the new president of the CBCI, used at the media conference to describe the sentiments of the Church to the situation of violence prevailing in some parts of the country.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, CBCI secretary general, said that threats to the secular fabric of the nation and to its tolerant tradition are a concern of the Church.
Intolerance will harm the country, Cardinal Gracias noted. The 73-year-old prelate also opined that diversity will help the country develop and grow.
The bishops expressed their desire to continue and intensify their collaboration and partnership with the federal and state governments to “reinforce our work of nation-building through educational, healthcare and social upliftment activities.”
Cardinal Gracias said that providing education to people is the anti-poverty program of the Church. Education and skill training by the Church institutions has helped thousands of people to overcome poverty and to become good Indian citizens.
Bishop Masacarenhas noted that the Church wants to provide education in partnership with the government.
The Church is the second largest provider of education in the country, he remarked.
In service to the nation, especially to the dalits, tribals and other backward classes, Christians will join hands with all men and women of goodwill, to “ensure the integral and holistic human development of our country which is measured by the scale of human index, and not merely by economic statistics,” the bishops said.
They felt that dialogue with followers of other religions and with ecumenical groups as the need of the hour.
Reaffirming the love of all Christians “for our beloved country as we continue to pray constantly for it and its wellbeing,” the bishops said that the Christian faith gives us hope to move ahead to continue our work for unity in diversity so as to establish peace and harmony and make our country live up to its exalted calling.
The February 2-9 general body on the theme “United in diversity for mission of mercy and witness” concluded with a thanksgiving Mass presided over by Cardinal Gracias.
The CBCI is the largest Bishops conference in Asia and the fourth largest in the world.
The objectives of the CBCI, founded at the Metropolitans’ Conference in Madras (Chennai) in 1944, include advocating on national issues, making representation to the government, working with the government and networking with other Christian churches, organizations, civil society and people of other religions.