India’s Catholic Church is calling for the promotion of solidarity and secularism amid social tensions and protests in the aftermath of a new citizenship law.
The new legislation allows certain minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship but excludes Muslims who make up some 14% of India's population.
More than 20 people have been killed in protests across the country since the law, seen by critics as discriminatory towards Muslims and against the constitution’s secular character, was adopted on Dec. 11.
Solidarity and respect for all
“The Citizenship Amendment Act is a cause of great anxiety for all citizens and there is a danger that there could be a polarization of our peoples along religious lines, which is very harmful for the country,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said on Wednesday.
The cardinal, who is Archbishop of Bombay, made the call in Benaulim, Goa state, on the occasion of the inauguration of a new secretariat building of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), which brings together the country’s Latin-rite bishops.
His remarks came in the wake of serious incidents, including the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi by young Hindu radicals affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“It is the responsibility of all to promote solidarity and respect for all in our country,” he said and requested all Christians to pray continuously that peace and harmony may prevail in the country.
The cardinal reiterated what he had said earlier in a statement on December 27. “The ongoing controversy and demonstrations and counter demonstrations concerning the Citizenship Amendment Act," he had said, "is a cause of great anxiety for all citizens and could harm the country.”
“There is a danger that there could be a polarization of our peoples along religious lines, which is very harmful for the country.”
Cardinal Gracias suggested the government dialogue with those opposing the law and find a way forward with “justice, equity and fairness”. He said that there was no harm in backtracking or changing course if was necessary for the good of the country and the people.
The new CCBI Secretariat Extension in Benaulim, called Shanti Sadan (House of Peace), was inaugurated by Cardinal Gracias in the presence of 12 Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.
CCBI president, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão of Goa, unveiled the plaque and blessed the ground floor. The three-story building has 25 rooms, a chapel and conference and dining halls.
The CCBI, which has its headquarters in Bangalore, Karnataka state, has five secretariat centres in different parts of India. The Deputy Secretary General and four other Commission Secretaries operate from Bangalore.
India’s Catholic Church is made up of 3 ritual Churches – the Latin, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara – that together make up the CBCI, the apex body of the Catholic Church in India.
The apex body of the Catholic Church in India is the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), that brings together the Latin-rite (CCBI) and two eastern rites – the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches that claim their origin from St. Thomas the Apostle.
With 192 bishops from 132 dioceses, the CCBI is the largest bishops’ conference in Asia and the fourth largest in the world.