As congregations decline in the West, the Vatican hopes to attract more believers to its fold with an 'Indianised' Bible depicting Virgin Mary in a sari and Joseph clad in a loincloth and turban.
“I am sure this Bible, made in India and for Indians, will bring the word of God closer to millions of our people, not only Christians," Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, said at a ceremony on the Bible's release.
Sari-clad Virgin Mary with Joseph and the baby Jesus in the first "Indianised" version of the Bible was published by the Roman Catholic Church last month.
The Holy book features 27 sketches of typical Indian scenes and idols, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa for easy interpretation for the local readers. It even quotes Hindu scriptures, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, to help explain Christianity to prospective converts.
“We wanted to show the parallels between the themes in the Bible and in Indian religions,” Father Tony Charanghat, a spokesman for the Archbishop, was quoted as saying by The Times Online on Saturday.
“We've put the sacred text in a local context,” he stressed.
“The calculation is that this (India) is the last great missionary front on Earth,” John L. Allen Jr, a Vatican expert based in Rome, said.
Christianity, which is now the third-largest religion in India, is reputed to have been brought to India by Thomas the Apostle, “Doubting Thomas”, in AD 52. The first Catholic missionaries came from Portugal in the 16th century. Of the 24 million Christian followers in India, 17 million are Catholics.
Published by the Society of St Paul, the book has already sold 30,000 copies within a week in India.