The Church's Role for a Better India


1. We, 161 Bishops, gathered at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bangalore, for the 30th General Body Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India from Feb. 1 – 8, 2012, prayerfully reflected, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  on the theme: “The Church’s Role for a Better India”. We were helped by the deliberations of the Catholic Council of India which reflected on the same theme at its XIth General Body Meeting. At the end of our meeting, we address this Message to all people of good will.

2. We sensed in our hearts our country’s  Yearning for a Better India.  Our country has been noted for its deep spirituality, its saints and sages, its  rich diversity of cultures and religions.  People yearn for the ideal enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India of a Sovereign, Socialist Secular Democratic Republic which will secure for its citizens JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

3. But this yearning has remained largely unfulfilled. Economic development has brought about increasing inequities, an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor with consequent tensions spilling over into violence.  We see around us a betrayal of the poor and marginalized, the tribals, dalits and other backward classes, women and other groups who live in dehumanising and oppressive poverty. We witness rampant exploitation of children. There is disappointment with those in public life for whom ethical concerns matter little.

4.What has been the Church’s Response so far? Our Christian faith enjoins on us the belief in a God who created all men and women equal and destined all to live a life of fullness in justice, peace, freedom, love and truth. We believe that God came to us in Jesus so that we “may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).  Jesus himself spelt out the reason of his coming in the words:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me … to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

5. In the footsteps of Jesus, the Church has sought to serve the country. In the field of education, she has established a vast network of schools and colleges. Noteworthy is the fact that 59.3% of these institutions are in the rural areas. Girls constitute 54% of the students. 71.7% of our students are from other religious  communities.

6. The range of our health-care services, most of them in rural areas, is immense with 788 hospitals, numerous dispensaries and centres for mental health, leprosy, tuberculosis, and terminally ill. We mention in particular those centres catering to people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. All these centres have been serving people irrespective of creed or caste without any discrimination.

7. Well known too is the Church’s involvement in development and social projects in the country from water harvesting to establishing self-help groups and so on.  The Church has also entered, in a big way, into capacity building and empowerment programmes. Special mention must be made of Caritas India, the coordinating Agency of the Catholic Church in India for Social Work which which celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year. It rendered yeoman service to our country. Pope Benedict XVI states: “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man… It seeks to promote man in varied arenas of life and human activity” . (Encylical letter, Deus Caritas Est no. 19)

8. But the Church does not wish to rest on her laurels. She recommits herself to being a prophetic Church, taking a decisive stand in favour of the poor and marginalized.  How does she as a prophetic Church plan to contribute towards a Better India? The Assembly of Bishops accepted the following as guidelines for future action:

8.1 In the first place, the Church will look at herself. We admit that oftentimes we have not succeeded in living up to Jesus’ invitation to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14). We bishops ourselves will give the lead by an austere and prayerful life and we will inculcate in our faithful a spirit of true contentment as against unbridled consumerism. We will set in place systems to ensure transparency and accountability. To strive for a Better India, she herself must become a Better Church. 

8.2. We will make better known and implement the Church’s Social Doctrine, which underlines the centrality of the human person in all activities along with a commitment to the common good, aiming at the integral human development of all with a view to creating a just society.

8.3. Inspite of the attacks on the Church, we  will continue our work for the disadvantaged and marginalized, enlisting our doctors, lawyers and other qualified personnel into their service. In reaching out to the least and the last of society, the Church portrays the compassionate face of Christ.    

8.4 We will inculcate the sacredness of human life from the very first moment of conception to its natural end in death.We are painfully aware of female foeticide which has led to an imbalance in the male/female ratio of our population. We are saddened to witness the baneful effects of substance abuse on the  individual himself/herself, the family and society.

8.5. Following up on the CBCI Education Policy, the Church will use her network of educational institutions as agents for social transformation, taking special care that our students imbibe  ethical and spiritual values which will enable them to be citizens of our country who will serve the country with honesty and integrity. 

8.6. Since one of the major causes of violence is injustice, the Church commits herself to the liberation of the weaker sections like  tribals, women and dalits. In particular, she wants to reach out more to unorganized groups like fisher-people, farmers, migrants, domestic workers, victims of trafficking and so on. She will engage in advocacy and networking with NGO’s and other like-minded groups and individuals dedicated to the cause of the poor. She will cooperate with government in its efforts to improve the lot of the poor and help them avail of the benefits and grants set aside in government schemes for them.  The Church will be a voice for the voiceless.

8.7.Recognizing that untouchability and caste discrimination are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus, we will root out this evil, wherever it exists, from within the Church and make concerted efforts to empower dalits. We commit ourselves to join hands with our dalit brothers and sisters in their fight for equal rights and the Constitutional benefits which are denied to them on the basis of religion. We assure the marginalized and weaker sections that we will do everything possible  to train and equip them for leadership positions at local, regional and national levels.

8.8. We stand for the protection of the environment. We are stewards of God’s Creation and we must use our resources for the good of all, keeping in mind also our duty to future generations. Illegal mining, deforestation, some mega projects, pollution of water, air and land are destructive of ecology.  We will resist such moves and encourage greater use of natural sources of energy, promote organic farming, encourage proper methods of waste management and other such initiatives. 

8.9. The Church will seize opportunities to be an instrument of reconciliation, seeking to be a bridge-building community among peoples. We will encourage our lay faithfulespecially our Small Christian Communities, to engage in a dialogue of life whereby they interact with people of other religious traditions, being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows. We will encourage our faithful to enter into a dialogue of action whereby people of different persuasions work harmoniously with a common concern for the good of society.

9. As leaders of the Church in India, we re-affirm our commitment to    build up a Better India.   We realize that we cannot achieve our goal in isolation.  We invite all sections of the Church, priests, religious men and women, lay faithful and all men and women of goodwill to be fully involved in this noble endeavour. In the realization of a Better India, the role of the lay faithful is of decisive significance. In particular we appeal to our youth, with their dynamism and vibrancy, to be involved in this task. We count on our brothers and sisters in the Christian Churches and communities to work with us in a collaborative effort. And we can never forget that it is not just by our efforts that we build up a Better India.  As a Church, we want to pray for the realization of this goal.  “In the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor, but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service” (Deus Caritas Est, no. 36)

10. We envision an India with more attributes of the Kingdom of God such as justice and equity with its consequent fruits of love, peace and joy. We will, to use the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future” (Encylical Letter, Caritas in Veritate, no. 21).

11. We  entrust our efforts to Mary, the mother of Jesus, a woman of integrity, compassion selfless service and endurance, whose feast of the Assumption we celebrate on August 15, the same day as we celebrate the fruit of India’s Liberation Struggle, Independence Day.

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