Reflecting the rising concern among Christians in India, two senior cardinals have spoken out against the recent attacks on churches and the rape of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal, with one expressing shock and the other saying it’s time “to knock at the doors of the court and judiciary”.
While Cardinal Basilios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishop Conference of India, suggested that only the courts could restore the promise of peace and the right to life of all, Cardinal Oswald Gracias said the issue was a “matter of concern to all in the world”.
“We are living in a country with democratic values, where humans should be protected too and not just cows,” Cardinal Cleemis said.
Thiruvananthapuram-based Cardinal Cleemis heads the largest umbrella group of Catholic Christians in India, and Mumbai-based Cardinal Gracias is one of the nine advisors appointed by Pope Francis to keep track of developments in each continent.
“We get so many calls and queries from people across the world. We keep trying to underplay the idea that Christians in India are persecuted. It is damaging the image of India abroad. How will investments come if this is to be our state of affairs?” asked Cardinal Gracias.
Cardinal Cleemis said it was important to realise that he was speaking “not as a Christian”, but “as a citizen of India” reflecting on the erosion of constitutional guarantees.
“Earlier, Christians were recognised for their service to society and to children, especially in the field of education. Now, when irresponsible statements are made by those at various levels of responsibility and these attacks take place, there is no one in power to stop them,” he said.
“It is the duty of the government to protect those engaged in nation-building activities and religious groups of all kinds. That is what has been special about India so far, the country and this culture. That has to be protected,” he added.
Referring to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent remarks questioning the motive behind Mother Teresa’s social work, and the fallout of the rape in Ranaghat, Cardinal Cleemis said, “Now we have people who attack Mother Teresa, and put a question mark over her. Is there nobody to stop this? She is an icon and symbol of Indian Christians. Christianity in India has not come with the British or anything. We have been here for centuries now, and are of this land.
“When such heinous incidents like the one in West Bengal take place, we ask what is happening to us as Indians, our system and society?”
Highlighting the implications of the recent incidents, Cardinal Cleemis said they were “disfiguring the whole secular fabric”.
“Ours is a culture more than a country, which is being hurt. There is space for all to believe, and not to believe. Don’t make it a one-sided journey,” he said, adding that “the majority of the Hindu community is with us”.
The Mumbai-based Cardinal Oswald Gracias, meanwhile, referred to the Haryana government’s response to the recent desecration of a church in Hisar to make his point.
Pointing out that CM Manohar Lal Khattar, while speaking in the Assembly, sought to blame those who had set up the church, Cardinal Gracias said, “Will anyone in a position of authority anywhere in the world ever speak like this? I was shocked when I heard all that he had said.”
On the rape of the elderly nun, he said, “The Superior General of the Congregation of the nuns, Sister Monica Joseph, who met the nun who was raped, told me that she kept repeating to her that she forgave the perpetrators. That may be because the credo of this particular congregation is to forgive, which is central to their philosophy.”