ROME, JAN. 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- India is the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country, with a population estimated at 1.21 billion. The country is highly diverse with many languages, cultures, and religions although the population is still influenced by the Hindu caste system. Most converts to Christianity are dalits — the very lowest caste in Indian society, historically referred to as “untouchables.”
Marie-Pauline Meyer for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Bishop Sebastian Kallupura of the Buxar Diocese in northern India, about the situation of the Church in the nation.
Q: You are a bishop of the Diocese of Buxar. Where is this diocese?
Bishop Kallupura: India is a large country, which is divided into 25 states. One of the largest states in the north is Bihar. We have about 25,000 Catholics and maybe another 20,000 from other Christian groups. So we are a microscopic minority in fact. It is a peaceful area. The Hindus are strong in their beliefs and the people have a very mild disposition. Even their language which is called Bhojpuri — the official language is of course Hindi — sounds very musical, like the Italian language. The people are generally very affectionate and there is no conflict.
Q: India still has a caste system. Do the Christians in your diocese belong to a caste?
Bishop Kallupura: Once they become Christians of course they no longer belong to a caste. The local population, prior to embracing Christianity, usually belong to a caste and often those in the lowest rung, the so-called dalits most respond to our faith. They are socially, economically, educationally quite backward. We bring them the message of Christ and we help them in any way we can educationally, socially, and economically through our social outreach programs. The dalits respond and willingly embrace our faith.
Q: Can you explain the caste system?
Bishop Kallupura: In the Hindu religion, members are divided into different groups or castes. People are divided according to trade in a way. The highest are the Brahman, the priestly class who are in the temple service. The warrior class who engaged in warfare especially in the olden days is called the Kshatriyas. Another group belongs to the Vaishya caste, including the businessmen or industrialists of today. Then there are the Shudra, the artisans and agriculturalists, and finally the dalit — the lowest rung in the caste system. Even within each of these castes, there are sub castes which make it difficult for individuals to get out of this system. Those who belong to the highest caste, however, do not shed their caste affiliation because of the benefits. Those in the lowest rung, the dalits, can achieve some upward mobility socially through education but they still carry the stigma of their caste and so they often go to the urban areas where, through their education, it allows them to work and maintain some degree of anonymity.
Q: You do not belong to a caste. Does this fact influence, for example, your relations with the government?
Bishop Kallupura: I do not belong to a caste. The Indian Constitution does not recognize the caste system and it is illegal to discriminate based on caste affiliation; in reality however, people do. I do not have a problem with the government; neither do I have a problem with the people. In the mission areas, people think that we Christians belong to a caste, the Christian caste. Some people find it difficult to think of a society without a caste system. That is their mindset. Once the dalits embrace Christianity, they shed their Hindu and caste affiliation officially, constitutionally and of course the Church does not recognize caste affiliations.
Q: The Church undertakes education for the poor; does this mean that there is no universal education especially for those among the lowest members of society?
Bishop Kallupura: That is the problem. There is nobody to educate these people, especially the dalits, for whom we are working. There are government schools, but they are there in name only; teachers do not show up and children don’t bother showing up either. The wealthier people are able to send their children somewhere else to be educated. But the poor people are not educated. Nobody cares for them. So this is where we missionaries go. We have our schools. The government does not support many of these schools yet they recognize these schools.
Q: Is this one of your projects as a bishop?
Bishop Kallupura: This is one of my priorities. Educationally speaking our people are very backward, so I want to uplift them for, unless the laity is uplifted, the Church cannot be the true Church. The laity has to be educated and have to develop in life. My priority is to uplift them, educate the youth, and educate the children as people with dignity.
Q: You have so much energy to do this?
Bishop Kallupura: I have my faith in Jesus and naturally, it is he who will help me. He is the one who gives me the strength and in any case it is not on my own volition that I do this. He called me to this place. He called me and ordained me to be the bishop. He has asked me to do this job, and I do this with his help.
Q: What is your Episcopal motto?
Bishop Kallupura: My motto is “Honor to all.” It is in the Bible when St. Peter asks people to honor everybody. So “Honor to all” means that I want to build a diocese where everybody is honored, not only the bishop, priests and religious but everyone; the lay people and people of other faiths because we are all human beings.
Q: What then is the most important thing for you when you meet people? What is the first thing you say?
Bishop Kallupura: Immediately I say “Jesu” which means praise be Jesus Christ. If I meet Hindus or others who do not share our belief, I greet them with “Pranam,” which is another way of greeting people and we become friends; then we start a conversation. We do not start with religion, but eventually we get there. Then they find out that I am a priest and a bishop. They will ask why I am a priest. Then I share that I have had a God experience.
Q: Can you share with us this God experience?
Bishop Kallupura: I have a tremendous prayer experience. The moment I sit in prayer I know that Jesus is with me filling me with grace and life. Somehow, the Lord listens to my prayers and they are answered. I pray for others and myself and he listens especially when I pray for others. That is the kind of experience; I am with the Lord.
Q: What do you pray for your diocese?
Bishop Kallupura: My diocese is very new and we do not have any infrastructure. I am lacking in personnel. I need priests, and lay people. We are also financially lacking. We do not have anything. So I have to go around begging from the people. I see one good thing, however, in that everybody’s very accommodating. We have a small church and the people sleep in the church. There is also a school and they sleep in the veranda by putting the benches together. This is how we are.
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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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