By Thomas Joseph Therakam
Indore, September 22, 2019: The Church in India should read the signs of the times and imbibe the spirit of the Second Vatican Council to become relevant and survive in the modern world, says a national body of Catholic priests.
“In a world of information technology, consumerism and self-absorption, we are challenged to live together, mingling with and encountering the other, for embracing and supporting one another” the Catholic Priests’ Conference of India (CPCI), considered the association of progressive diocesan priests of the country, states after its 32nd annual convention.
The September 17-19 conference at the Pastoral Centre of Indore diocese in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was attended by 40 priests from 18 dioceses of seven states.
They deliberated on the convention theme “Pastoral Mission: A Paradigm shift.”
Father Varghese Alengaden, founder director of the Indore-based Universal Solidarity Movement who opened the convention, challenged the participants to undertake a paradigm shift in pastoral mission.
The 66-year-old priest said the source of the paradigm shift in the various stages of his 39 years of priesthood was Jesus, who challenged his disciples to put the new wine in a new wine skin.
His proactive response to socio-political context of India led to the formation of the Universal Solidarity Movement in 1993 to promote value education for peace.
Father Alengaden reminded the CPCI members that the new paradigm is a tough mission. “All who want to experiment new paradigm should be ready for crisis as it is a gradual and emerging process,” he explained.
Paradigm shift requires broad, inclusive and lasting vision, and willingness “to dare to believe, dare to risk, dare to be rejected, dare to stay without quitting and refuse to fit in and dare to stand out,” he explained.
Paradigm shift is from cultic priesthood to prophetic priest hood so that priests become prophets to the nations, he added.
Father Alengaden urged the Catholic priests to make a paradigm shift from welfare and charity to bearing lasting fruits.
“Enter into the mainstream and become salt and light to people of all faiths,” the priest asserted.
Father Alengaden also wants his fellow priests to get out of presbyteries to network with NGOs and secular organizations.
CPCI secretary Father Philip Kattakayam from Muzaffarpur,.Bihar, too said priests need to become a missionary Church that “goes out of its comfort zones to reach out to the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.”
Father Leo Sequeira, from Allahabad said a Church that is self-enclosed, self-centered and self-absorbed is sick.
“The Church that stays too long in the sacristy gets sick. The Church needs to get out into the wider world in order to stay vital and alive,” he added.
It has to be a Church in the streets and fields where people are found. The shepherd must bear the smell of the sheep as reminded by Pope Francis, he added.
“Going out of us and joining with others makes the church healthy. We need to look at our people with the eyes of Jesus and love them with the heart of Jesus. Only then we can feel the people. For that we need to encounter them, be close to them and listen to their heart beats. The globalization of indifference has taken away from us the ability to feel and weep with the suffering humanity,” he added.
The socio-political context of the times should become the content of prayer leading to contemplation. Only that can bring about a paradigm shift from religiosity to spirituality.
CPCI president Father Lawrence Culas from Trivandrum, welcomed the gathering, said: “We are self-enclosed, and distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction by the information technology. Today one can be so hooked to the mobile net and lose touch with the people. Our relationships are based on screens and systems, which can be turned on and off on command.”
Divine Word Bishop Alangaram Arockia Sebastian Durairaj of Khandwa was the guest of honor at the inaugural session.
The keynote address was delivered by Father X.D Selvaraj of Tuticorin diocese.
The CPCI members undertook a pilgrimage to a road side spot at Udaynagar in Indore where Blessed Rani Maria Vattalil was stabbed to death in 1995.
The Franciscan Clarist Congregation nun was pulled out of a bus and stabbed 54 times by an assassin hired by upper caste landlords who were upset with her work among landless agricultural laborers.
CPCI is an independent body of Catholic priests in India and not controlled by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.