Pope Addresses Achievements and Challenges of Church in India

Touches on Marriage, Marian Devotion and Sacrament of Reconciliation

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 3, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II praised the dynamism of the Catholic Church in India but also noted some of its challenges, when he met with a group of the country’s bishops.

The Pope based his analysis today on the reports presented by the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, who were concluding their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

In the first place, the Pope said, «notwithstanding the obstacles encountered by people, especially the poor, who wish to embrace the Christian faith, adult baptisms are numerous in much of your region. Equally encouraging is the high percentage of Catholics who attend Sunday Mass, and the increasing numbers of laity properly participating in the liturgy.»

The number of baptized Catholics in India is constantly growing. In 1990 they totaled 14.19 million. At the start of 2002, they numbered 16.7 million, according to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church.

In that same period, the number of priests (diocesan and religious) increased 33% to 19,811 from 14,862; nuns rose 27%, to 83,186 from 65,184; and catechists almost doubled, to 60,144 from 31,659.

The number of students of theology and philosophy preparing for the priesthood soared 43%, to 11,303 from 7,863. India has the largest number of seminarians in the world.

However, the Holy Father concluded from the bishops’ reports that the Church in India also faces important challenges.

In his address, he insisted, above all, on the need to avoid «relativist explanations of religious pluralism, which state that the Christian faith is of no different value than any other belief.»

«Faith alienated from our Lord Jesus, as the only Savior, is no longer Christian, no longer theological faith,» he stressed.

Quoting the reports, the Pope told the bishops that a «deeper appreciation of the sacrament of reconciliation will help to ready your people spiritually for the task of doing everything possible to witness to reconciliation and to bring it about in the world.»

In the third place, the Holy Father addressed the need to prepare young people for marriage. «Our teaching of marriage as a sacred sign of unfailing fidelity and selfless love of Christ for his Church points to the invaluable worth of a comprehensive marriage preparation program for those readying themselves for the sacrament and, through them, for society as a whole,» he said.

Regarding Marian devotion, the Pontiff said: «The festivities and devotions associated with the many shrines dedicated to Our Lady in your areas, while attracting thousands of followers from other religions, must be soundly incorporated with the liturgical life of the Church if they are to become a gateway to authentic Christian experience.»

Lastly, he said, in «a world disfigured by fragmentation, the Church — as the sign and instrument of the communion of God with humanity — is a powerful bearer of unity and the reconciliation which it entails. As bishops called to manifest and preserve the apostolic tradition, you are joined in a communion of truth and love.»

«Any spirit of antagonism or conflict — always wounding the body of Christ — must be put aside and replaced with that practical and concrete love for every person which arises from the contemplation of Christ,» the Holy Father said.

Lastly, the Pope called for impartiality in the distribution of «the financial generosity of overseas donors.»

He urged the bishops «to set an unquestionable example by your impartiality in the stewardship of the communal resources of the Church. You must ensure that the administration of ‘goods meant for all’ is never sullied by temptations to materialism or favoritism but is wisely undertaken in response to the needs of the spiritually and materially poor.»

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