By Anand Mathew
Varanasi: March 9, 2019: Christians in India should stop “doing activities” and accompany the excluded and broken people in their struggle for a dignified life.
For this, they have to discard a culture of rhetoric and reestablish their rootedness in Jesus and make a lasting commitment to foster integration and communion of people of all faiths, cultures and ethnicities.
This was the consensus of a national seminar that marked the 50th year of the All India Seminar 1969 in Bangalore, considered a watershed in the history of Catholic Church in India.
As many as 125 delegates – laity, religious, clergy and bishops — representing India’s three Ritual Churches attended the March 2-4 seminar held at Nav Sadhana in Varanasi, a regional pastoral center.
It was organized by the Commission for Proclamation of Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (national body of Latin rite bishops) in collaboration with Varanasi diocese.
The seminar on “Moving Towards an Authentic Witness to Jesus in India Today” critically assessed the Indian Church’s life and mission since 1969 and looked into future challenges in a society that has changed drastically in the past 50 years.
The participants resolved to work together in a spirit of love, respect, justice, equality and mutuality.
The Church community has to have a conversion that is transformative: from a culture of rhetoric to a culture of rootedness in Jesus, a convergence from a culture of fragmentation to a culture of integration and communion and a commitment that is lasting: from a culture of ‘doing activities’ to a culture of being and accompaniment, they said.
Speakers noted a tremendous good accomplished within and through the Church in India during the past 50 years. The Church has moved from expansion mode to spreading the Gospel values in the world.
It is now involved in several new forms and avenues in mission such as inculturation, dialogue, initiatives for justice and peace, social and development works, cooperatives, medicare, environmental action and a presence among the excluded including those in prison.
At the same time, the participant noted the absence of a conscientious and unified effort to implement the 1969 seminar resolutions in letter and spirit.
This Varanasi seminar invited the Church to revisit the decisions and the directions given fifty years ago. An authentic witness to Jesus in India today is possible only when the Church personnel situate themselves in the brokenness of the people, the seminar asserted.
India has made rapid strides in several fields, since independence. However the Indian society continues to face poverty, lack of education, malnutrition and unemployment, fundamentalism, casteism, consumerism, corruption, ecological degradation, gender discrimination, sexual atrocities and violence on women and girl children, and human trafficking.
The Constitution of India is in danger, as the core values enshrined in it are systematically being eroded.
These are major challenges to the Church too, the seminar said.
The seminar found hope in Pope Francis’ call to Christians to get out of their comfort zones, and go to the peripheries of society and empower the laity, especially women and youth, and thus gain the “smell of the sheep.”
The particiapnts resolved to accompany the excluded: particularly the Dalits, tribals/Adivasis, migrants, unorganized sector, displaced, and to engage in dialogue with other faiths, beliefs,ideologies and churches.
Becoming aware of the interconnectedness of all in the Universe, the seminar called for sustaining Mother Earth with greater reverence.
The seminar also resolved to make the Church more communicating by involving proactively in media.
Other resolutions included:
• Have a more participative and truly inculturated Church through basic Christian/human and Khrist bhakta communities, a Church which treats women and men equally
• Emphasize the importance of our families as the heart of our evangelizing mission
• Ensure compassion and peace and move towards the ‘priesthood of people’
• Shed our exclusiveness and collaborate with all women and men of goodwill
• Actively network with civil society groups in joint efforts for a just and humane society
• Promote and propagate the Constitution of India, particularly the Preamble
• To shun every form of ‘clericalism’ and to have the courage to change for the better
The three-day seminar arranged 29 papers from theologians, missiologists and ecclesiologists, and 22 sessions that helped the participants share their thoughts and expectations for a New Way of Being the Church in India.
Cardinal George Alencherry opened the seminar with a solemn Mass on March 2.
The participants listened to Ram Puniyani, a leading activist, explaining the increasing hold of religious fundamentalism in India.
At a panel on ‘Sharing by Co- Pilgrims,’ representatives from Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faiths shared their experiences and expectations from the Christian community on Inter religious collaboration.
Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra commissioned the participants by anointing them with holy oil. He asked them to become more authentic witnesses to Jesus in India today by living the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ and by assuming the ownership of Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency.