How the Church in India Faces into Fanatical Foes

Interview with Cardinal Ivan Dias, Archbishop of Bombay

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BOMBAY, India, OCT. 29, 2002 ( Cardinal Ivan Dias says that for the Church in India the challenge of interreligious dialogue is addressed by preaching a faith based on works.

In an interview in the latest issue of Città Nuova, the archbishop of Bombay discusses the situation of Christianity in India, evangelization in Asia, and the role of the laity in the new millennium.

Q: In recent years, the Catholic Church in India has been faced with an unheard-of, violent side of Hinduism. How does she react?

Cardinal Dias: Hinduism has always been open to all values regardless of their origin. However, small groups of fanatics have never been lacking, who do not accept this general philosophy.

At present, these Hindu minorities want to do in India what was done in Pakistan at the time of independence in 1947, hoping to transform India into a Hindu country. They propose false theories, saying that before Christianity arrived, all were Hindu. These groups, through violence and other means, are trying to make their point of view prevail.

We have had to face these groups, especially over the past three years, when a certain violence was unleashed against Christians. Deep down there is a particular philosophy that wishes that the whole country would have only one religion. Their violent behavior goes against the ethos of the Indian people and against the founding fathers, such as Gandhi [and] Nehru, who wanted to proclaim a secular state, with equal rights for all religions. And they wished to protect minorities with special norms: freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom of association.

Q: In this context of uncertainty, what is the state of the interreligious dialogue in India?

Cardinal Dias: There are praiseworthy initiatives both at the episcopal as well as at the diocesan level. This dialogue is important at the local level, because that of the episcopal conference is not so much interreligious as it is with the public power.

In general, it can be said that there is openness on the part of non-Christians, because the Church is “catholic” in a special way, and witnesses to universality through its works. Thus, it is not so much a question of a preached faith, but of faith put into practice with dialogue — for example, a Mother Teresa who loves, who embraces everyone. She is a concrete example for Hindus, as are Christians who work with lepers.

This bothers fanatical groups. Two years ago they burnt alive an Australian Protestant missionary who worked with lepers, on the pretext that he was making conversions. And they also killed his two children. Despite this, his wife and daughter continue to live in India and to work. This is witness.

There are two ways of dialoguing: intellectual, according to ideas, and practical, by working together. When Hindus and Muslims are committed to their faith, we must not and do not want to conceal our identity: That which motivates us to do what we do, both in the hospitals as well as in the schools and in social works, is Christ.

Q: What is the best way to dialogue? And to maintain one’s own identity?

Cardinal Dias: To teach what we preach with deeds. For example, the first word expressed by the wife of the murdered Australian Protestant was of forgiveness. These are the gestures that show that we are really followers of the Gospel: “Love your enemies.” And also having our school doors open, allowing access to those who do not have our religious tradition. It is an indirect way of evangelizing that shows how we are.

Q: Do you think the golden rule — “Do not do unto others what you would not like done unto you” — present in the different religions, is a means to put into practice?

Cardinal Dias: It is essential, because otherwise there will only be a parallel dialogue, without a real meeting. But if one follows the golden rule, one meets the other without confusing things. … They want to be educated by Christian teachers even if they don’t embrace the position of the others, thus understanding one another better. This is the secret of peaceful, joyful, harmonious and loving coexistence.

Q: The Pope has said that the 21st century will be the century of the evangelization of Asia.

Cardinal Dias: I am more than certain. The difficulties are a good sign. In Asia, the Church is present in 3% of the population, although 14% of the world episcopate is in Asia, as is 33% of men and women novices, 25% of women religious, and 10% of diocesan priests.

The Holy Father’s prophecy is already happening. India’s episcopal conference is the fourth in the world. The Church is strong in Vietnam, although it suffers affliction. It is galloping in South Korea, just as in Indonesia. Hence, vocations also abound, as in India, which has 23,000 priests and 80,000 women religious. In the future, we are concerned with paying attention to quality, because it is easy for worldly values to enter our way of being and deteriorate us.

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