2016-03-03 17:49:00

Indian bishops to seek Church response to current challenges

(Vatican Radio)  More than 180 Catholic bishops and scores of priests have gathered in Bangalore, southern India, to help the Church respond to current challenges in the country. The main theme of the assembly is “The Response of the Church in India to the Present Day Challenges.”

A group of experts comprising religious and lay people will assist the prelates at the March 2-9 biennial plenary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences. The CBCI is the apex body of the Catholic Church in India. Its members comprise active and retired bishops of 170 dioceses belonging to the three ritual Churches in the country.

“The first challenge comes "from within" the church and the second refers to what "we face as a secular country,” said CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, addressing a media conference held in Bangalore on Tuesday, adding that the assembly offers an opportunity to “deepen our faith and faith commitments.”

The cardinal, who is also the head of the Syro-Malankara Church, said the Catholic Church in India is committed to protecting the “credible secular fabric” of the country. Secularism, interreligious dialogue and cultural plurality are among some issues the assembly will address, the prelate added.

They will also discuss challenges to consecrated life, Catholics moving to Pentecostal sects, the role of laity and families in the church's mission and working towards becoming a church of the poor. He noted that the Church will continue with greater commitment its services in the areas of education, health, poverty elimination and other charity initiatives to benefit the poor.

Hard-line Hindu groups have been accused of stoking a climate of intolerance against minority religions and cultures. Without naming any political party or organization, Cardinal Cleemis said pluralism "is the culture of our nation and if it faces challenges, it is for us to stand together" to help the country successfully deal with it.

“A major thrust of the assembly”, Cardinal Cleemis said, “will be promotion of acts of mercy”. Pope Francis has declared 2016 as the Year of Mercy.

The assembly will begin March 2 morning with Mass presided over by Apostolic Nuncio to India Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio. The CBCI president will chair the opening session where the nuncio will deliver the inaugural address. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, will be chief guest on the occasion.

CBCI vice presidents Archbishops Andrews Thazhath of Trichur and Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Damn, secretary general Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra, deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan and Public Relations Officer Fr Gyanprakash Toppo also addressed the press conference.

They described acts of mercy as showing compassion to the poor and the downtrodden in the country. During the assembly, the bishops will be assisted by a group of 20 priests responsible for the various CBCI offices and centers, an expert team of Religious and a panel of resource persons from the laity and other religions.

Archbishop Andrew Thazhath of Trichur, the first vice president of the conference, said challenges the nation faces include poverty, sickness and illiteracy. While explaining how the church responds to national social challenges, Archbishop Thazhath said that the church takes care of "18 percent of rural education and some 30 percent" of people living with HIV in the country. The church takes "an inclusive approach" without excluding any person on the basis of their religion or caste, he said.

The conference's secretary-general, Archbishop Albert D'Souza of Agra, said the church is both a spiritual body and social organization. "We seek the wounded but reach out to them with healing in order to build a better society," Archbishop D'Souza said.

The bishops will also interact with the Conference of Religious India (CRI) and the Catholic Council of India. The highlight of the assembly will be the joint celebration of the CBCI-CRI on March 5, marking the end of the ‘Year of Consecrated Life’ proclaimed by the Pope . Religious men and women of India will join the bishops for Mass and a cultural program which will also be treated as a goodwill gesture  and that of gratitude of the CBCI to “the thousands of Religious who serve the Church in India with dedication and sacrifice”, the office bearers explained.

Cardinal Cleemis said Hindu and Muslim scholars and social experts will address the meeting "and it will help us identify challenges" and "formulate our responses." Justice Cyriac Joseph, acting chairperson of the federal National Human Rights Commission, will give the keynote address at the assembly. The other speakers include More Sadanand, Inam Dar, Guilherme Vaz, Romy Chacko, Michael Dias, Sister Shalini Mulackal and Fr Mohan Das.

The bishops will issue a final statement highlighting the main thrust of the deliberations and the future course of actions. It will help Catholics in India to study and implement the bishops’ deliberations.

(Source: UCANews, Matters India)

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