By Robin Gomes
According to former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Christmas is the celebration of the eternal and omnipresent values of compassion, forgiveness and universal love that Jesus stood for. Even though the nation is going through troubled times of divisive tendencies, intolerance and prejudice, he assured it was a temporary phase and that brotherhood, peace and resultant prosperity would finally prevail.
He made the remarks on Thursday at a pre-Christmas celebration in the Indian capital New Delhi, hosted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in the premises of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Mukherjee, 83, who served as the 13th President of India from 2012 until 2017, was the chief guest at the gathering, which also included, ministers, members of parliament, bureaucrats, ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps, bishops, priests, religious men and women, leaders of various Christian denominations and different faiths and the laity.
Mukherjee, India’s first Bengali president, observed that every religion directs human endeavour towards the three basic tenets of truth, compassion and righteousness, and that man’s civilizational history was not a history of struggle between classes, religions, castes or gender but a struggle between the universal good and its antithesis wherein it was always the former that won.
Aberrations of a crusade, a jihad or violent struggles between sects in India, Mukherjee said, were always defeated in the favour of the reign of brotherhood, peace and resultant prosperity. “Though we are going through troubled times of divisive tendencies, intolerance and prejudiced ‘fear of the other’…he said, “it is my considered belief that this, like in the past, is a temporary phase.”
Church’s education and healthcare ministry
The retired Indian president expressed appreciation for the Catholic Church of India, saying millions of Indians irrespective of religion are educated in its educational institutions and treated in its health centres. In this regard, he recalled the “heartening images of the Missionaries of Charity led by Mother Teresa”, who tend to the last person on the margin of society.
Freedoms and rights
Pranab Mukherjee said that the most important thought he wanted to share at this Christmas time, was that whatever the circumstance or propaganda, the freedom to practice and propagate our religion, freedom to set up our educational institutions and to choose any occupation, safeguarded in the Indian Constitution, are important and must be safeguarded.
Mukherjee concluded by inviting all to be tolerant and compassionate and keep anger and hatred away, not allowing the poison of division to soil the very heart of India. “The birth of Jesus brought joy and peace, let that joy and peace be in our hearts, in our homes, in our neighbourhood and fill our nation,” he added.