Bengaluru: The members of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) elected Cardinal Oswald Gracias as its new president during the 33rd General Body Meeting of the CBCI held from February 2 to 9 at St John’s National Academy of Health Services. Most Rev. Joshua Mar Ignathios Metropolitan Bishop of the Eparchy of Mavelikara (Kerala) as the first Vice President and Most Rev. George Mar Njaralakkatt Metropolitan Archbishop of Tellichery (Kerala) as the second Vice President for a period of two years. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas SFX continues his three year term as the secretary General of CBCI. This was announced during a press conference on Friday (February 09).
Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (Mumbai), briefing the media on the resolution adopted at the conclusion of the week-long Assembly of the bishops said the Catholic bishops wished to urgently call all people of good will to uphold the rule of law guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. In a climate of violence, the bishops appealed to all fellow citizens to shun mob culture and vigilantism in favour of peace. The bishops also wish and desire to continue and intensify their collaboration and partnership with the Government at the Centre and in the States to reinforce the work of nation-building through educational, healthcare and social upliftment activities.
Cardinal Gracias who was president of CBCI earlier and president of Asian bishops’ Conference besides being president of CCBI (Conference of Catholic Bishops’ of India -the Latin-rite Conference) said the Christians would join hands with all men and women of goodwill, in service to the nation, especially to the Dalits, Tribals and other backward classes, to ensure the integral and holistic human development of ‘our beloved country which is measured by the scale of human Index and not merely by economic statistics.’
The bishops urged all Indians, to resolve to go beyond narrow domestic walls of every kind in order to establish a truly secular, socialist and democratic nation as is enshrined in the Constitution of India. Dialogue with followers of other religions and with ecumenical groups is the need of the hour, he added.
Archbishop of Bombay who is also consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts recalled the presence of Christianity in India over 2000 years and the bishops underlined the contribution of the Church in India to nation building and service to all Indians irrespective of religion, region, culture, race or language. According to the bishops, India needs the Church and the Church needs India. “No one should doubt our loyalty or our commitment to the nation.” The bishops appealed for true nationalism that can lead our motherland to genuine peace, harmony, progress and prosperity. Authentic nationalism respects the human dignity of every citizen and calls for integral and inclusive development that percolates to every strata of the society.
The General Assembly of bishops resolved to promote transparency and accountability in society. They plan to encourage and train lay people and youth for involvement in vitally important areas of the national life such as politics, civil services, defence, law and judiciary.
The resolution also stated that the Catholic Church would ensure the implementation of the CBCI Policy of Dalit Empowerment in every diocese, work for the protection and integral development of the Tribal and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). It was also resolved to take special initiatives for the relief and welfare of farmers, fisher folk, migrants and other deprived and exploited communities by providing care, comfort and hope to them in their distress. An important mission to be undertaken by the Church is to work towards increasing the awareness about ecological issues and protection of the environment according to the teachings of Laudato Si, the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis.
The bishops reaffirmed the love of all Christians for our beloved country as we continue to pray for it and its wellbeing. They pointed out that the Christian faith gives hope to move ahead to continue our work for unity in diversity so as to establish peace and harmony and make our country live up to its exalted calling.
The General Body Meeting of the CBCI concluded with a solemn thanksgiving Mass presided over by the new President, Cardinal Oswald Gracias and valedictory function that followed. The Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro was present at the concluding event. The theme of the Meeting was: “I am with you always to the end of the age. (Mt 28:20) – “United in Diversity for a Mission of Mercy and Witness.” The bishops following Jesus their master rededicated themselves to their mission of service and witness: feeding the hungry, comforting the disturbed, promoting the dignity of the marginalized, healing the sick, giving hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captives, forgiveness to the sinners and justice to the poor. The members of CBCI entrusted themselves in all that they do for the Church and society, to the loving care of Mary, Mother of Mercy.
In reply to queries, Cardinal Gracias admitted that intolerance existed towards diversity and anxiety on persecution and other forms of violence. Though diversity in itself is healthy but it is not properly understood by a section Indian society. The bishops along with all citizens of the country look for a secular India. This secularism is meant not only about Christianity but about all religions. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX, Secretary General, CBCI, supported Cardinal’s stand and clarification. The negative thinking on diversity could harm the social fabric of the society. Christians always stood in the forefront in all spheres of activities affecting the country. They serve in Army and various other Defence Forces, Civil Services or Foreign Services. In clarification on stand of CBCI on elections, the Cardinal said the Church is not for any political parties. In reply to yet another query on how to get cooperation from governments for education, healthcare and other social services, the Cardinal said Church gives education to the needy all over the world. Jesus was a good teacher. Church was always a pioneer for education and strives towards eradication of poverty, oppression and other vices. The Church makes every effort towards economic upliftment of the backward and the marginalized. Church advocated full freedom to work and prepared the youth to become good citizens of the country.
Bishop Mascarenhas supporting Cardinal’s view said Church wants to work in partnership with government. To take care of every sector should be the policy of the Church. Cardinal pointed out the wide possibility of giving education to the deserving. Church has over 25,000 educational institutions in the country. Bishop Mascarenhas admitted the challenges the Church faces regarding teachers, especially of teachers in rural areas. The government comes into the picture on the question of ‘how to take care of teachers. Caritas India takes up social work and every diocese has a set up for social work. Disaster management, development programmes and other despairing scenario and critical situations are their scope of work. The bishops also take up agriculture fields, self- help groups and of late, prison ministry and under trials. Street children are looked after by Don Bosco. Unorganized sector, labour class, women, migration issues are also in their realm of activity. Regarding situation of Dalits, Dalit polcy on how Church Institutions handle it and take care of them were also reviewed.. They do not get care from government. Consciousness of Church on them got due attention.
No benefits for dalits who have become Christians. Writ petition was filed in S C but not heard for so many years. S C observed that by marriage, no caste changes. If the criteria should be of economic, it should be purely economic and not based on religion. To another question on Pope’s coming to India, the Cardinal informed that it is being considered. CBCI plays a major role in it. Modi government has shown interest on the matter. This is a big possibility and will happen. The concerned bishops would also appeal to the government for its reality. All look forward to it.
The Press Conference began and ended with prayers. Others present and contributed towards the Press Meet were Bishop Mascarenhas, Msgr Joseph C and Fr. Ananda Xarier who thanked the Cardinal and other dignitaries.
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