For Christianity in India, no political party is taboo, says Bishop of Pune
Last month, Anil Couto, archbishop of Delhi, stated in a letter, “We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation... As we look forward towards 2019, when we will have new government, let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13, 2018 which marks the anniversary of the apparition of the blessed mother at Fatima, consecrating ourselves and our nation to the immaculate heart.” The letter also asked Christians to fast every Friday “for the nation”.
In reaction to this, cardinal Oscar Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ conference of India, was reported saying, “It’s unfortunate that there are misguided elements who create problems. The government must give a strong message that such incidents won’t be tolerated.”
Two weeks later, Filipe Neri Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa, in his annual pastoral letter, said, “Today, our Constitution is in danger, (it is a) reason why most people live in insecurity. In this context, particularly as the general elections are fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it.”
In light of the above, Thomas Dabre, Bishop of Pune, shares his view and opinion about the messages of the archbishops and cardinals, and his message to the city.
What do you feel about the messages sent across by the cardinals of Delhi, Mumbai and Goa ?
According to me, none of the letters or statements have violated parameters, standards or outlines. They have just given their analysis of the situation. Everyone has the freedom to give their view and admittedly, people can disagree. They have called upon people to pray for the country, there is nothing wrong with that.
For Christianity in India, no political party is taboo. The church has never said that the community should oppose a particular party or government. It never said that Christians should support or promote a party. It does not associate with any particular party. Every one is free to vote with respect to their conscience.
What is your message to the government?
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the present government should openly recognise the extra ordinary contribution of the Church towards education, health, social service, armed forces, civil services and positions of responsibility within the country. Most of the students in our educational institutions, besides Kerala, Tamil Nadu in the South and in the Northeast, are non-Christians; mostly Hindus and Dalits. The government should openly recognise that beneficiaries of our health services are people of other religions and cultures. They should tell the people that they should stop creating prejudices and doubts about the Christian community by constantly raising the bogie of conversion. We love our country and we will continue to serve our country and we pray for our government and people.
Have you ever been approached by people from the community stating that they feel threatened?
Honestly, certain incidents like the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme, lynching of beef traders has made some anxious and insecure. Opposition to the right to declare one’s faith and promote their faith, and constant accusations of false conversions on the ground of force or deception has also played a part in this feeling of insecurity.
What is your message on the current situation of the country with respect to religion and culture?
We are all Indians and whatever religion we belong to, we must not forget that we are children of mother India. We should love one another as fellow Indians. Let us not doubt the loyalty or patriotism of anybody. Let nobody take anyone for granted that his/her patriotism is superior to the patriotism of others. Having said that, in a nation, it should be people first and people last. Therefore, rulers and politicians should serve the people and not vice versa. Sociologically and historically it is clear that minorities are always at the receiving end. The tendency of human beings is that the mighty overpower the weak. The people in majority tend to oppress and neglect the minority. We have seen it happen over the years. Today too, the same thing is noticed across the globe. Minorities are suffering. Members of the minorities are equal citizens and therefore, the government should also give special treatment to the minorities.