India’s Catholic Church has pledged to continue on the path of dialogue and collaboration with all in the task of nation-building and the common good. At the same time, it appealed against a “narrow and divisive cultural nationalism” that fuels “contempt for cultures other than the majoritarian dominant culture”.
The 192 bishop members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex body of the Church in the country, made the call on Wednesday in a statement at the end of their 34th plenary assembly.
“Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity,” was the theme of the biennial meeting held in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, February 13-19.
While expressing their fidelity to Jesus Christ and their unflinching loyalty to the nation the bishops warned against a “narrow and divisive cultural nationalism, which is radically different from Constitutional nationalism.”
“Patriotism,” they explained, “is defined as directing the attention of the citizens to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations.” They reminded Christians of their sense of responsibility and their commitment for the common good.
“False nationalistic ideologies that instigate contempt for cultures other than the majoritarian dominant culture,” it said, “are capable of perpetrating atrocities.” “Patriotism builds up the nation while pseudo nationalism destroys the integrity, unity and harmony of the nation,” the Indian bishops pointed out, noting that “nationalism, particularly in its most radical and extreme forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism.”
Citizenship, pseudo nationalism, totalitarianism
The CBCI plenary assembly came against the backdrop of nationwide protests against the government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which allows minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship but excludes Muslims, which is discriminatory.
In the spirit of the Constitution, the Church leaders urged that religion not be a “criterion for determining Indian citizenship”.
Rights groups say that critics of the government and the ruling party are often branded as anti-national and traitors, creating panic and division among people.
India’s Catholic bishops appealed to the nation’s authorities to “come forward with sincere and effective means to erase the sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty spreading in the nation, especially among the religious minorities,” and ensure that “pseudo nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of totalitarianism”.
In the final statement, the Catholic bishops of India also expressed their pride for and trust in the Indian Constitution that resolves to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all its citizens. They encouraged believers of all religions to respect one another other and their religious traditions, thus cooperating with one another to promote peace and harmony and work for the common good of all.
Being open to dialogue, they said, calls for being absolutely consistent with one’s own religious tradition and cultural identity, which must be respected at any cost. “Attempts to homogenize and impose a mono-cultural pattern pose serious threats to the cultural patrimony of our country,” they said.
“No culture or religion shall dominate over other cultures and religions,” the bishops said, warning that “subduing certain cultures by the dominant culture will destroy the brotherhood and harmony existing in the country”.
Dalits and tribal people
India’s Catholic Church also called on the State authority to take adequate steps to ensure justice to the poor, the Dalit Christians and the tribal people, by “eradicating poverty, exploitation, discrimination, and every other form of sinful structures”.
Another aspect of dialogue, the bishops said, is the “obligation to protect the ecological equilibrium of the earth, intended by the Creator”. “Therefore dialogue with nature includes serious steps to mitigate climate change, clean the land and the seas, and start treating all of creation with respect and concern.”
The right of the unborn
The Indian bishops called for upholding the right to life of the unborn, saying each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the "respect due to a human person from womb to tomb".
The bishops appealed to the government immediately withdraw the new Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill in the Parliament, which allows abortion at any time during the pregnancy till the 24-week gestation period.
Interreligious dialogue and peace
The Catholic Church of India also encouraged interreligious dialogue, saying there will be no peace among nations without peace among religions, and there cannot be peace among religions without dialogue among religions.
In this regard, the Church leaders expressed alarm over the persecution of innocent people by fundamentalist and terrorist groups worldwide.
Interreligious dialogue in India, they said, should aim at collaboration in areas such as peace-building, protection the environment, eradication of poverty and ensuring the human dignity of all, especially of women and children. It also means condemning all wars, violence and terrorism that create insurmountable blocks to dialogue.
The Indian Church thus pledged to engage itself in a process of dialogue for a reconciled society.
The CBCI plenary re-elected Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay as president. Archbishop Mar George Njaralakatt of Tellicherry and Bishop Joshua Ignathios of Mavelikara were also re-elected as vice-presidents. Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai Diocese was elected as Secretary-General of CBCI.