Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the outgoing president of India’s conference of bishops (CBCI), has issued the following pastoral letter on behalf of the country’s Catholic bishops. The letter addresses India’s general elections which will take place in April and May this year.
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My dear Sisters and Brothers,
Our country is once again preparing for the General Elections. This is an important moment for us since the direction that our country takes, its progress and much of our everyday lives depend largely on the leaders we elect to our Parliament. As Pastors of our people, we consider it our duty to address you through this Pastoral Letter, so that, joining hands with all people of good will, we can effectively contribute to shaping the future of our nation.
At the outset we wish to make it clear to all that the Catholic Church does not identify herself with any political party. But we have a responsibility as bishops to urge every eligible citizen to exercise his/her right and duty to vote and do so prudently, carefully and judiciously. All our parish priests are urged to impress on the people their obligation in this regard. We must be convinced that every vote does count. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our country not to let go of this opportunity to get involved in bettering the history, culture and destiny of our nation.
Our society is undergoing a profound transformation. Science and technology have introduced radical changes in the lives of our people. The last decade has witnessed tremendous development in areas of communication, infrastructure, public facilities etc. Globalization has impacted every aspect of our lives, affecting even the remotest rural area. At the same time, there are several areas of concern. The big gap between the rich and the poor seems to be widening. Many unorganized, informal and casual labourers are barely able to survive with what they earn. The trend towards privatization is beginning to dismantle existing public institutions in education, health and the social sector. Ethics is losing primacy as the guiding principle for society. God is slowly being pushed to the periphery. It is in this context and at this moment in history that we are going into the elections.
The Catholic Church earnestly hopes that the General Elections will give us leaders who understand the anxieties of the people and respond to their needs. We need leaders who will:
* Uphold the secular character of our nation and promote communal harmony and a spirit of inter-religious dialogue and understanding.
* Care for the minorities and weaker sections of society, protect their rights and work for their uplift.
* Safeguard the rights of tribals over land, water and forests; and grant equal rights to dalit Christians, equal to those given to other dalits.
* Work for an economy that seeks in particular to help the poor and the under privileged, protecting their dignity and enabling them to take their rightful place in nation building.
* Improve the climate and conditions in our country, ensuring a totally safe environment for all people, particularly women and children.
These are national issues. There would be other local and particular needs to be considered as well.
We urge our people to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and at home, so as to be able to discern what is best for the common good. All of us must pray ardently for a good government. God sent his Son that we may have life and life in its fullness (John 10:10). With the Lord’s strength and guided by the Spirit we can all work unitedly for a better India. We lift our country to Mother Mary to always guide, protect and bring us abundant graces. God bless India!
– Oswald Cardinal Gracias: President (CBCI)