By Robin Gomes
The Church in India has reiterated its commitment to promoting dialogue and social harmony, even in the midst of conflicts or social and political crises.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay expressed the Church’s commitment on Thursday while inaugurating the biennial plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), taking place in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore).
The theme of the 34th assembly at St. John’s Medical College, February 13 to 19, is “Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity”.
Dialogue for nation-building
Cardinal Gracias, who is CBCI president, recalled that “the Church has always been at the service of society", and stressed that need for dialogue which "is the tapestry of different cultures, languages and ethnic diversity".
Over the next few days, he said, they will reflect on how the Church would move forward, discuss various programme and papers, and also address the various issues that affect the Church in general. This will include focussing on the task of nation-building through its services in education, healthcare and its outreach programme for the marginalized.
The Catholic Church in India, Cardinal Gracias said, would move forward in dialogue with all groups in society, such as civic bodies, government and non-governmental organizations and religious communities, so as to "create a peaceful and harmonious environment for all to live as true citizens of the rich land, India". The CBCI president assured that the Church in India will continue to "live the gospel values of peace, joy and harmony and always work for the whole humankind".
"I place into the Lord’s hands this Plenary Assembly and pray that the fruits of the deliberations may inspire us to continue to build bridges, first by understanding the other person and then walking along with him or her, irrespective of his or her caste, creed, colour", he stated.
Cardinal Gracias noted that a similar theme had been addressed by the CBCI plenary assembly 20 years ago, but the Indian Church now wants to give new impetus and vitality to this theme, strengthening networks and institutions to improve dialogue.
The Church, he said, has always championed the cause of dialogue and peaceful interaction to build the world community, hence the need to break down the walls of separation and build bridges of unity.
"The Church in India was a pioneer in education, medical and health services besides social upliftment. It always stood as the light of the world and helped others to witness to the same light and truth.
The inauguration of CBCI’s plenary assembly included a concelebrated Mass presided over by the Apostolic Nuncio to India, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, along with the heads of the country’s 3 ritual Churches, other archbishops, bishops, office-bearers and officials of the CBCI.
It was also attended by a great number of priests, religious and lay faithful. Representatives of other religions have also been invited to address the participants and share their views on the theme of the assembly.
Light of the world
In his inaugural address, Archbishop Diquattro reiterated the exhortation of Pope Francis in his Motu Proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi” (You are the light of the world), on the issue of accountability regarding abuse, harassment and violence in the Church. He said the Pope urges each diocese to strive “to shine a light on our wrongdoing before the eyes of the world”.
He advised the clergy in India to commit themselves to the truth within the Church, even though it is painful. This undertaking goes way beyond the problem of abuse and is ordered towards a substantiated evangelical reform of the church.
Archbishop Diquattro said, “it is a matter of not betraying the primary evangelical concern of the Church in favour of the last, the marginalised and vulnerable people”. This concern, he explained, promotes a spirituality of co-responsibility and of sharing, in order to create among the faithful a climate of openness, coherence and transparency. The Nuncio also stressed that the proclamation of the Good News must be carried out in joyful service.
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 Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) is the association of India’s Latin-rite bishops. With 132 dioceses and 189 bishops, the CCBI is the largest bishops’ conference in Asia.
The CBCI, which was instituted in 1944, turned 75 this year. With 170 dioceses and over 200 active bishops, it one of the largest bishops’ conferences in the world.