Archbishop's Message
The Shepherd’s Voice
HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT US

My dear brothers & sisters,

RESPONSE OF THE CHURCH IN INDIA TO THE PRESENT DAY CHALLENGES

The Church in every part of the world has always faced challenges to her life and mission all through the centuries and the present times are no different as our experience shows. The Lord has not promised us a secure life but he has told us: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16: 33). He has also promised us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt. 28:20).

The challenges that the Church in India is facing are many and formidable particularly in the present context of a political climate that threatens to change the “secular” structure of the Constitution which so far has been considered to be its sacred and basic foundation. Consequently the rights granted by the Constitution to the minorities have become the target of sinister forces that are bent on depriving the minorities of their status as equal citizens of our beloved motherland.

In their biennial plenary meeting held at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru (March 2-9, 2016) the Catholic Bishops of India (CBCI) discussed the many issues confronting the Church from within and without. Some of the more pressing ones have been identified in the final statement. I hereby present a cursory glance at some of the salient points mentioned in the statement.

Many challenges affect the Church from within but the declining family values leading to tension and break up in families, increasing number of divorces, abortions and lack of understanding of marriage as sacrament occupy the first place. This is followed by the growing addiction to materialistic and consumerist culture, decline of moral and spiritual values, indifference to the Christian vocation, lack of commitment to ecumenical unity, excessive preoccupation with institutionalization, insufficient zeal to proclaim the uniqueness of Christ and large scale migration of families affecting community life.

Among the challenges that the Church faces within the country large scale poverty and growing gap between the rich and the poor tops the list. Close on its heels are the evils of corruption, illiteracy, child labour, unemployment, growing addiction to alcohol and drugs. Atheistic secularism is as great a challenge as a narrow unitary cultural nationalism that is being propagated today. We are also facing the spectre of systematic efforts to manipulate the educational system and to interfere with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The climate is rife with widespread intolerance, religious fundamentalism, attacks and atrocities against intellectuals, social activists, religious personnel and institutions and growing criminalization and terrorism. The consistent denial of SC status to Christians of Dalit origin is no small a challenge along with sensationalism and dictatorship of a section of the media.

What is the response of the Church in India to the present-day challenges?

The Bishops addressed some ten areas with a list of proposals in each area.

I would like to highlight some of the more important proposals in each area:

Family Life

1.Parish Priests have to visit the families more frequently not only for social visits but primarily for pastoral motives so that families learn to live in unity, reach out to others in love and family values such as prayer, Bible sharing through SCCs are promoted.

2.Marriage Encounter and Marriage Enrichment Programmes have to be organized systematically in such wise that families are able to respond to the challenges posed by media and today’s permissive culture on issues such as pro-life, human sexuality, pornography and marital fidelity.

3.Facilities need to be created to care for the elderly, respect them and learn from them.

Renewal of Consecrated Persons

1.Consecrated persons have to rediscover their charism and rededicate themselves to their ministry and apostolate with a clear shift from maintenance to mission.

2.Consecrated way of life should be a combination of contemplation and active service in the line of the Gospel and as recommended by St. Pope John Paul II.

3.Consecrated persons are called to participate in the mission of the Church through greater collaboration with the Bishop and integration into the pastoral life of the parish community.

The Lay Faithful and the Mission of the Church

1.In keeping with their dignity, role and importance in the Church the lay faithful are called upon to involve themselves with zeal and commitment in the Church and in the temporal order so that their witnessing presence is felt in all areas of human society, particularly in politics.

2.The Church has to encourage and train the laity to play their leadership role in the Church and society by organizing faith formation and professional training programmes, creating scholarships and providing other facilities to enable the laity to participate fully in the life and mission of the Church.

The Marginalized and Weaker Sections within the Christian Community

1.While strenuously pursuing with the Government to treat Christian Dalits on par with the Hindu Dalits the Church has also to introduce measures to integrate Christian Dalits with others in the Church through education and employment.

2.We have to strengthen our advocacy for the socio-political, economic and cultural rights of Tribals, enshrined in the Constitution which includes the addressing of issues such as land alienation, induced displacement, human trafficking and migration.

3.Fostering gender equality within the Church and providing a greater role of women in our collaborative structures should belong to the vision and mission of the Church.

Youth Apostolate

1.There is no gainsaying the fact that youth apostolate should be promoted at all levels such as schools, parishes, colleges and other institutions and encouragement given to youth movements such as ICYM, YCS/YSM, AICUF and Jesus Youth.

2.Encouraging faith formation of youth through YOUCAT, DOCAT, Youth Bible and fostering ethical and moral values, enhancing critical thinking and problem solving are of the highest priority.

3.Young talents have to be promoted for leadership roles in the Church and society, particularly in political life and civil service.

Ecumenism

1.After Vatican Council II the Catholic Church is called upon to play a leadership role in the ecumenical movement by participating in ecumenical bodies, dialoguing with ecumenical groups on all issues affecting the life and mission of the Church and promoting spiritual ecumenism.

2.Of priority is the organization of special programmes for training seminarians, priests, religious and laity in the ecumenical apostolate.

Inter-Religious Dialogue

1.Ever since Vatican Council II inter-religious dialogue has become an urgent priority especially in our country. The goal is to establish friendship, peace and harmony among the diverse religions and cultures of our country and to share spiritual and moral values for the betterment of our society.

2.To organize formation programmes on inter-religious dialogue in our institutions, seminaries, formation houses and parishes is of the utmost importance.

3.SCCs can be a very good forum to promote such dialogue with the focus on justice and peace.

Educational Apostolate

1.Our educational institutions have to rise above the maintenance mode to impart holistic education with a heart for the poor and the marginalized according to the CBCI Education Policy of 2007.

2.Promoting faith formation of Christian students and value education for all, reaching out to those living in social and geographical periphery and providing quality education in the slums and rural areas are goals that cannot be brushed under the carpet.

3.The Church has also to recognize the need to positively promote higher education, to form persons of character and conviction capable of delivering quality leadership and administrative service, upholding the Constitutional values and the socialist, secular and democratic character of our country.

Care of the Earth, Our Common Home

1.The ruthless exploitation of the earth’s resources has adverse effects on humanity and the future of life on planet earth as clearly taught by Pope Francis in Laudato Si.

2.Therefore we have to promote sustainable development through change of lifestyle.

3.Every diocese, parish and institution has to draw up an environment (green)policy that will include organizing programmes for protecting the environment and fostering love for nature.

Bishops and Priests

1.Bishops and Priests, while exercising their role as administrators, should be first and foremost shepherds of the flock, available and service-minded. Their life-style, rooted in the word of God and power of prayer, should be an example of simplicity and spirituality that can be an inspiration to everyone.

Let us hope and pray this statement inspires the Church in India for a more authentic and courageous Christian witness through the intercession of Saint Mother Teresa and all the Saints and Martyrs of the Indian Church.

Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi