VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- As news arrived of anti-Christian violence in India, John Paul II prayed, in his missionary intention for July, “that Christians in India not be impeded from professing their faith publicly and from freely proclaiming the Gospel.”
India’s 18 million Catholics comprise only 1.8% of the population. Yet, the Hindu majority country has had disciples of Jesus for 2,000 years, noted Cardinal Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, in an interview with the Vatican agency Fides.
Christians “have contributed enormously to the development of education, social services, the promotion of the marginalized,” the cardinal said. “This Christian testimony of life and service has led many people to the faith.”
“India has always been a country open to all creeds; however, five years ago militant groups of Hindu fundamentalists began a campaign to turn the country into a totally Hindu state, just as Pakistan is a Muslim state,” the cardinal continued.
In this context, “the minority groups, Christians in particular, are the object of persecution and oppression; Christian missionaries and personnel of the local Church have been killed,” the cardinal said.
The archbishop of Bombay also alluded to the “anti-conversion laws” in force, which in many states have had a restrictive effect on pastoral ministry and social services. “In three Indian states the police must be informed when there is a conversion, to verify if it took place in full liberty,” the cardinal explained.
India’s Supreme Court is now debating the rights of minorities. “We trust that a decision will be reached that guarantees the secular tradition of this great nation, and that citizens of all creeds will be able to live in harmony,” the archbishop of Bombay added.
According to tradition, the Christian roots of India date back to the preaching of the Apostles Thomas and Bartholomew, who first brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to the area of Kerala.
Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians are among the religious orders that have played an important part in the country’s early missionary history. An archdiocese was erected in Goa in 1558; it had two suffragan dioceses. The Archdiocese of Bombay was created in 1886, when the number of Catholics reached 1 million.
According to the data provided by Cardinal Dias, the Church is flourishing in India and has numerous vocations, despite the persecutions. Today there are 23,000 priests.
Christians in India are involved in many services. They are responsible for 20% of primary education; 10% of the teaching of illiterates and of communal health care; 25% of the care of orphans and widows; and 30% of the care for the handicapped, AIDS sufferers and lepers.
The Indian Catholic community is characterized by its devotion to the Eucharist. In Bombay, for instance, 80 of the 115 parishes have eucharistic adoration all day.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary is widespread too. Last Feb. 11, on the occasion of the World Day of the Sick, which was celebrated in Vailankanny (the “Lourdes of the East”) at the Pope’s request, 40,000 pilgrims went to that Marian shrine on the shore of the Gulf of Bengal.
Cardinal Dias recalled that, when the Pope went to India in 1999 to promulgate the postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia,” he said: “The first and second millennium belonged to Europe and Africa; the third millennium belongs to Asia.”
“The prayer of all Catholics worldwide can support India’s Christians to carry forward their mission of love,” the archbishop of Bombay concluded.