Indian Church misses red hat again, Dalit plea ignored

Dalits constitute more than 60 percent of Christians in India


By Jose Kavi

New Delhi: No Indian has found a place among the 14 new cardinals Pope Francis announced on May 20.

The pontiff seems to have ignored pleas for a cardinal from the Dalit Catholics of India, who form at least 60 percent of the Church members in the country.

Pope Francis, who has been creating cardinals from smaller and “frontier” nations since becoming the pontiff in 2013, may have skipped India all these five years because it now has four cardinals with rights to vote in a papal election.

The Pope has not nominated new cardinal from two other major Catholic countries in Asia — Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Indian Catholics can find consolation that Churches in their neighborhood have cardinals, the latest being Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan. Two years earlier, Pope Francis made cardinals from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Sri Lanka has Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo.

Among the Indian cardinals, the oldest is Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi, whom Pope John Paul II made the first tribal cardinal from Asia in 2003. He is now 78.

The other three were nominated by Pope Benedict XVI — Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, in 2007, and in 2012 George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, and Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church. While Cardinals Alencherry and Gracias are 73, Cleemis is only 58 years old.

Although the Church in India traces its roots to Saint Thomas the Apostle who is believed to have arrived on the Kerala coast on 52 AD, it had to wait 19 centuries to get its first cardinal. Pope Pius XII created history in 1953 when he nominated Archbishop Valerian Gracias of Bombay as the first cardinal from India.

Since then, 12 Indians have become cardinals, including the four now living.

The country got its second cardinal 16 years later: Joseph Parecattil, Archbishop of Ernakulam Syro-Malabar Church. Jesuit Archbishop Lawrence Picachy of Calcutta became the third Indian cardinal in 1976. The fourth was Archbishop Simon Lourdusamy of Bangalore, in 1983.

Five years later in 1988, India got two cardinals – Archbishops Simon Pimenta of Bombay and Antony Padiyara of Ernakulam. The country then waited for 13 years to get two more cardinals – Ivan Dias of Bombay and Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam.

Observers of the India Church find it curious that Delhi, the national capital, never had a cardinal. There was strong rumor of Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi becoming a cardinal. However, the Eurasian prelate, who was born in Myanmar (then Burma), was killed in a road accident on June 20, 2000, in Poland, when he was 70.

The cardinals from India have represented various communities in the Indian Church — Goan, East Indian, Eurasian, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Tamil and tribal, but none from Dalits, who form nearly two thirds of Christians in the country.

People such as Father A Maria Arul Raja, a professor of Religious Studies at the Jesuit Theology Centre in Chennai, say it was time the Church in India had a cardinal from the Dalit community. Even tribal people, who form 5 percent of Christians in India, have a cardinal.

Father Raja says a Dalit a cardinal would elevate one of the most socially suppressed communities in India. Dalit means “trampled upon” or “broken open” in Sanskrit and denotes people formerly known as untouchables in India’s multi-tiered caste system.

A Dalit cardinal would be “a symbolic gesture to affirm the dignity and rights of the community that has lived in the sub-human condition imposed by the caste system on the community for centuries, Father Raja told Matters India in February after addressing the Indian bishops’ last plenary.

A Dalit cardinal will highlight injustice done to the community in society as well in the Church. “It will be powerful witness to Jesus who took a strong choice for the poor, outcasts, socially excluded,” the priest added.

However, it is the prerogative of the Pope to appoint church leaders as cardinals, he acknowledged.

Another social activist Father Ajaya Kumar Singh too agreed with Father Raja. The Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocesan priest says a Dalit cardinal is overdue.

“Empowerment means being part of governance and decision-making process. Dalits are worst represented in the Catholic Church. They suffer from multiple vulnerabilities. Their representation would give an inclusive, positive and humane face to the church,” Father Singh told Matters India.

Jesuit Father AXJ Bosco, coordinator of the United Front for Dalit Christian Rights, also supports a Dalit cardinal. “If Dalits have to be empowered, they must assume leadership,” he told Matters India.

According to him, leadership in the Catholic Church is with the hierarchy. “Although 65 percent of the Catholics are Dalits, not even 8 percent of the bishops are Dalits; 12 out of 183. Unfortunately, the oppressive caste system, a social evil, dominates the hierarchy and the Church,” Father Bosco regrets.

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8 thoughts on “Indian Church misses red hat again, Dalit plea ignored

  1. The Catholic Church in India has a surfeit of Cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns etc. For example in my home parish of 400 persons we have three priests, three convents, three schools and one children’s home.

    I would also question on what basis we claim that 60% of Christians in India are dalit? The largest concentration of Christians is along the Konkan coast stretching from Kerala in the south to Vasai in the north, who are not dalits. The vast number of Christians in the North east are mostly tribal, as also those in Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.Dalit Christians in large numbers are to be found primarily in Tamilnadu, Andhra and Punjab. The number of Christians in other States is inconsequential.The numbers don’t really add up.

    This is not to deny in anyway are unflinching support to all deprived Christians, be they tribal, dalit or anybody else.

  2. Church in India by culture – Dalit ( poor culture)
    Church in India by philosophy -Vedic ( ritualits)
    Church in india’s food system as hedonistic or charvaka (careless about heaven and loose behaviour)
    Church in India’s mission is like IT SECTOR. (The don’t provide security to the staff unlike Tata and govt sector..)
    The biggest congregations in India are famous for money harvesting plants like internet matrimonial services, education institutions of all kinds, paid hostel services, superpeciality hospitals…fraud social works…
    Priests nuns and bishops are secured job… Without doing any evangelization they get 5 star ( if not vip) food and accommodation…
    It is high time to check the audit reports of the cbci stake holders (the dioceses and congregations) from the time of its inspection may be from 1950. Specially the amount for evangelization only… And evaluate the out come. And number of religious and priests caught in adultry, death due to bad life style… Like over food…

  3. It is a bad picture of church’s worldly political power game… It is good to read the Lord’s view on it… Matt. 20:26
    “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant”…
    If becoming a cardinal is a power game our incompassionate comments on their fraud acts will continue against bishops and cardinals..as to any politician. Wish you all the best for the Dalit candidates for cardinalship… I hope pope Francis will do that too so soon…

  4. I never understood the term Dalit within the catholic or Christian terminologies…. If converts are still living like Dalit of Hindu Varna system or casteism in Indian churches (who runs in the name of mission, the big schools, technical institutes, hospitals, social work billion projects etc) what is the fun of converting them.. Why did they convert.. To transform a community is so hard for missionaries?…. Then stop mission work and allow Ghar Bapasi of Hinduism. I think RSS is more sensible than the vulgar religious Sitting in strike for dailit cardinals… who made them Dalit….
    it purely indicates that the great the negligence of people in the name of mission in north India. Remember the lord’s word: Matt 23:15
    “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves”
    In the name of people some professor is talking his own corporate view…. I strongly suggest let the coming consecutive black Popes (superior general of Jesuits) be made their own missionary products, the IndianDalits… Then you say about Cardinals.. Why to reduce to Cardinal let it begin at Home… By making black Pope from our beloved Dalit brothers.

  5. This will continue for many more years to come, if the Church leadership is kept away from the Dalits and ‘Dalit promoters’ with conscience by the leading so called high caste groups at different level locally and globally. Every one of us know and talk about this ‘Dalit Christians condition and Church Politics’ at different levels, but as long as the Dalit are not at the decision making circle nothing much will change. Let us pray for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit on all of us!!!

  6. We should have priests,bishops and cardinals from all communities ,even our friendly Protestant,Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist communities. Only The Church believing in catholicity can do this. When all are children of God why discrimination !

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