By Fr. Mathew Kizhackechira
New Delhi: The recent letter of Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi urging his people pray for the nation triggered an avalanche of criticisms from media and politicians.
The May 8 letter notes that the current turbulent situations in India seem to threaten the country’s Constitution. Many looked at the letter with suspicion and asked one vital question, why such a letter for the nation was issued when the general election is near.
I felt deeply affected as the criticisms questioned the loyalty of the entire Christian community in India to our nation. Critics seem to doubt our call to prayer as indirect support to a particular political party.
Hence I searched hard for an answer and solution. I asked myself: Are we to pray for our nation only before an election? Why can’t we always pray for our nation? The reflection prompted me to put forward a suggestion — add some words to our Mass prayers. Even other countries could adopt this.
Mass is the most important prayer for Catholics. The whole Christian life is centred on it. We do pray for the nation in every Mass. Why can’t we go a little further and insert in the intercessory prayers the names of our president and prime minister along with the names of the Pope and local bishops?
Is it not on par with the Jesus’s stance regarding obedience and allegiance to the authority? Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). These words imply that as a believer a person has a duty towards his religion and as citizen towards his nation.
St. Paul also speaks likewise in Romans 13:1 “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God.”
The Bible thus reminds us of our duty towards the nation. If so, is not praying for them also be a sign of our loyalty towards our nation, although we need not provide evidence to anyone for our loyalty to this nation?
But still, to shut some mouths that speak always lies against us, I think this inclusion of our leaders’ names in Mass will help not only our nation but prove that we are not affiliated to any party in the country. It will also show that we accept our president and prime ministers as our own.
It will also prove that the Church does not meddle with politics or interfere with citizens’ freedom to vote for whomever they want. If this suggestion is taken seriously, our intercessory prayer would read like;
“… We pray for Francis our Pope, Anil (/name of local bishop) our Bishop, Ram Nath Kovind, the President of our nation, and Narendra Modi, Our Prime Minister…”
Some may ask why we can’t include the name of chief minister and other local authorities. Our loyalty is not to a state or province but to the nation. Praying for the head of the nation is praying for the entire country.
This proposal does not come out of a compulsion to prove Christians’ loyalty to the nation. It is to stress the need to increase our prayers for the nation whatever be its atmosphere, turbulent or peaceful.
Is anyone excluded from the list of people that Christians can pray for? None. So, it is our duty and responsibility as citizens to pray for our rulers.
We are the citizens of this great nation and we too make the Indian flag fly even in the Vatican City. Lies repeated a thousand times questioning our Indian-ness will not dent our loyalty to the nation. We will continue to shout with pride: “Bharat Mata ki jai.”
(Father Mathew Abraham Kizhakechira is the current parish priest of Holy Family Church, Pushpa Vihar, New Delhi, a parish under the Faridabad Syro-Malabar diocese. He has served as the Public Relations Office of the diocese and secretary to Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara.)