A narrow culture-based interpretation of nationalism, lack of clarity on the government’s stand on intolerance amid growing fundamentalism, and increasing saffronisation of education have been identified as key challenges facing the Church in India by the 32nd plenary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) which concluded in Bengaluru Wednesday.
Presenting a manifesto of issues raised and discussed at the plenary — the theme was ‘Response of the Church in India to present day challenges’ — CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis identified “narrow, unitary cultural nationalism… widespread intolerance… a systematic concerted effort to manipulate the education system’’ as the main challenges.
Although it stuck to the conservative line on issues like sexuality and divorce, the CBCI announced it would initiate a new way of thinking in the Church on looking at India .
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“We want to bring in a new way of being a church, of looking at the country from a faith point of view. Not a fundamentalist approach but keeping an open mind to build the nation that has been in existence for thousands of years and which has a population of diverse faiths, culture, ethnicity and language. This is our pastoral plan and not a political manifesto,’’ Cardinal Cleemis said.
“We do believe that this is a country with diverse realities and cultures and everybody has got an obligation to fulfil towards the nation. We say that our moral values is to accept everyone. I should accept everyone, not just people who adhere to my views. That is not the way India remained for centuries. India remains a united culture, a vision that is expressed in different ways,’’ he said.
“We don’t have a clear picture from the government on the issue of intolerance. Some people sometimes say positive things and the next day we have someone saying the opposite. We don’t know what to believe. As we see it, there is a growing tendency of fundamentalism in this country which has to be stopped. This is against the nature of this great tradition,’’ Cardinal Cleemis said.
The week-long plenary of Catholic bishops discussed, among other issues, incidents of fundamentalism including the recent attack on a church in Raipur.
“It happened at a time of prayer. This is never heard of in our country that people are attacked when they are praying,’’ he said on the Raipur incident last Sunday.
Despite church-run schools and institutions having a reach in the remotest parts of India, there is an increasing tendency to ignore these institutions while planning education initiatives, the CBCI said.
“Saffronisation in education is a concern. Looking at our Indian reality only from one perspective is a danger. It is a threat to the nation. We are not demanding that the only way is the Catholic way. The government must include us in discussions on how to modernise education in India because we are in the field. We are in the most remote areas. Natural justice mandates that we should also be heard in deciding a new structure of education,’’ Cardinal Cleemis said.
“We find a growing tendency at the moment of not consulting anyone. Those who disagree are seen as enemies of this country or what? We should listen to everyone,’’ he said.
The CBCI also identified Western secular values and atheism as threats to the church and prescribed adherence to conservative dogma as key to addressing homosexuality, divorce and family issues in the modern world.
“There is a growing tendency to view things from a materialistic or Western secular point of view — not from an Indian secular point of view — that some things are permissive and normal. India faces such threats from a sexual point of view. When such threats increase, we have to uphold basic and traditional family values,’’ CBCI vice president Archbishop Andrews Thazath said.
“India’s secularism is not against the spiritual and divine as secularism is understood in the West. India’s secularism is not against religion or belief but there is no monopoly of religion. Everybody has the right to believe, practice and propagate. We want to highlight that. Unilateral understanding of one religion can also create confusion, so things like atheism come in, bringing down the value of religious life and orientation of people,’’ Cardinal Cleemis said.
Among other concerns identified by the CBCI is the continuing issue of lack of Scheduled Caste status to Christian Dalits. “They are deprived of their share because of their affiliation to the Christian community. Is it a genuine sign of secularism in India? This is mere discrimination and denial of justice,’’ the CBCI president said while indicating that a march would be held in Delhi Thursday to highlight the issue.
As many as 178 Catholic bishops from 171 dioceses in India participated in the CBCI.