Against a background of ‘well-planned attacks’ on Christian institutions reported in the media and 486 incidents of violence against Christians in the past year (as reported by United Christian Front) the voice of the official church, the CBCI(Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India*) is missing.
This is the gist of an appeal sent out to CBCI president Cardinal Oswald Gracias by the ‘Forum for Justice and Peace’, a body of Catholic priests and religious. The letter states: ‘As Indian citizens we have our ‘Constitutional Rights’ and these rights are being violated both by the state and non-state actors. As a minority religious community and citizens of India we have the right to protest within the framework of law against the violation of our rights.’
Calling upon Cardinal Gracias for ‘guidance and direction’, the letter says, “If we do not respond to such acts, the secular fabric of India will be lost causing irreparable damage to the people of India, and an inclusive, democratic and pluralistic India as envisioned in the preamble of the Indian Constitution could be lost forever.”
The Forum For Justice and Peace has prominent members such as Social justice activist and Jesuit Priest Cedric Prakash, IMS Father Anand Mathew, Capuchian Father Anthony Thkkiniyath, Notre Dame Sister Sujitha and other priests and religious, who have been involved in social action over the years.
‘We remained silent‘
‘When Muslims were lynched by the right-wing groups, the Church in India remained silent. Now these groups have intensified their attacks on Christians. We are of the view that we Catholics cannot remain silent spectators when the drama of violent attacks against the minorities is unfolding before us. We need to act and fulfill our prophetic role before it is too late,” it says.
“The evangelical churches, pastors and the faithful are mostly the vulnerable victims of persecution. As the leader of the Catholic Church, the largest denomination in India, we suggest that you play an important and necessary role of being a bridge between different denominations and towards building Christian solidarity,” the letter says.
National Convenor of the Forum, Presentation Sister Dorothy Fernandes, talking to Newsnet One, said “We have as individuals and groups have expressed or unhappiness about these incidents, but the official church has remained silent. The Official church needs to get the laity together. We have a constitutional right and we don’t need to remain silent spectators as the whole thing (attacks by state and non-state actors) keep unfolding to us.”
Crisis management plan needed
The letter also states the urgent need to plan strategies to prevent as well as manage crises at the diocesan, regional, and the national level. It urged Cardinal Gracias to ‘propose the dynamics as well as the timeframe’ to organize meetings for planning strategies at the diocesan level, followed by regional level meetings and finally the meeting at the national level. The strategy planning should ‘necessarily include an evaluation of the functioning of various ministries, especially the method of evangelization’ and proposing changes within the dioceses and the religious congregations in order to meet the challenges of the Hindutva forces.
Sister Dorothy emphasized, “We as minorities have to join hands with the other minorities whether they are Sikhs, Muslims, Dalits, tribals … we need to create an alternative – a space for dialogue as to how we keep harmony within the country. What is happening right now is that people are being filled with so much of hatred against particular communities, and these sporadic incidents which are taking place are well planned.
“Let us sit as Catholics and leave our hierarchy, and decide upon a plan of action, keeping the Indian Constitution framework in mind,” she said.
The role of the church leadership in the current times is to encourage the laity to go beyond mere piety, the Presentation nun stated. There is also a kind of ‘superiority feeling’ among lay Catholics, and a tendency to say that the evangelicals call down hostility upon themselves.
“We talk in workshops and conferences, which is all very well. But we need to come out of our comfort zones,” she said.
The forum has called for the CBCI to constitute an expert legal cell to provide legal guidance and support to the victims of violence or harassment to approach the competent courts.
The Forum has suggested that a delegation consisting of the prominent Christian leaders under the leadership of the Chairman of the Regional Bishops Conference submit a memorandum to the chief ministers of the concerned states, where violent incidents against Christian community are taking place, asking them to take strict measures to prevent such incidents and file cases against those are involved in inciting violence against Christians.
Whenever harassment or attacks on Christian institutions and the Church personnel are done either by the agencies of the state or by the right-wing groups, the CBCI spokesperson has to respond immediately and condemn the incidents of violence, harassment and discrimination, the letter says.
The forum also called for a ‘one day fasting at the state capitals’ (in public places) under the leadership of all the bishops of the region to protest against the increasing violence against minorities. This could be a venture involving the leaders of all Christian denominations and with the support of the Civil Society Organizations.
*also called CCBI Conference of Catholic Bishops in India