Top UK church leader to visit Amritsar, may tender apology for Jallianwala Bagh massacre
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and a leading figure in the British establishment, will visit Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on September 9 during his 10-day India tour where he is likely to offer an apology for the 1919 massacre that Theresa May could not quite do as Prime Minister. The Archbishop would give a “transparent account of what happened” aware his comments would have “ramifications” as far as the Indian diaspora in the UK was concerned.
Welby, 63, who will be accompanied by his wife Caroline, will the first head of the Church of England to visit the memorial to one of the defining episodes of India’s freedom struggle. He will also meet Sikh religious leaders at the Golden Temple.
Richard Sudworth, the archbishop’s adviser of inter-religious affairs, said on Wednesday that meeting Sikh, Hindu and Muslim leaders for inter-religious dialogues will be one of the themes of his visit to Kottayam, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Medak, Jabalpur, Kolkata and Amritsar from August 31 to September 10.
On Jallianwala Bagh, Sudworth recalled that the archbishop had tweeted a statement on its anniversary in April, and said: “You can expect a fulsome and very transparent account of what happened with the moral implications as a Christian leader. It is something we regard with real seriousness as a moment of recognising some of the sins of our history on order to move forward with goodwill and mutual flourishing”.
The archbishop of Canterbury is entitled to sit in the House of Lords. His high-profile status in British society ensures that his opinions on issues of the day gain much traction in public discourse.
Sudworth noted the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November and said: “It is timely as a respectful affirmation of the need for mutual learning and understanding across faiths”.
“So in one sense, the 100th anniversary of the massacre and the anniversary of the Guru’s birth come together at an opportune point to make some serious statements about history and how we forge good relations across faiths,” he said.
William Adam, the archbishop’s adviser on ecumenical affairs, said the visit has three themes: Praying with local Christians, pastoral and pilgrimage. He noted that the visit will begin in Kerala, which he called the “cradle of Indian Christianity”.
Welby’s visit comes in the backdrop of a report earlier this month by the bishop of Truro commissioned by the foreign and commonwealth office that listed alleged attacks against Christians in India.
“He will be visiting local Christians and will be listening to their experiences. One of the things that the bishop of Truro’s reports signalled is that there are areas across the world where there are very variable experiences of Christian minorities”, Sudworth said.
“The archbishop will be going to listen and see what the situation is for those Christian communities. What we are encouraged by is that the Indian Constitution article 25 does give freedom of religion and belief and that is something we would be hoping to affirm and hear about as we travel around the country”, he added.
There are no plans to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but Sudworth said if the archbishop had the opportunity, “there will be things he would want to share”, but added that the church leader would not want to “lecture another country”.
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