Vatican City (Fides Service) – “Salvation is for all peoples. The Church proclaims and bears witness to the Good News, despite persecution”. This affirmation was made by Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta, who was speaking to Fides Service about the difficult situation of Indian Christians, a little more than 2% of a population of one billion.
The Archbishop said Christians are concerned about certain Hindu fundamentalist groups inspired by ideological nationalism. “These groups hinder our mission to spread the Good News: the Gospel, the Word of Salvation, Jesus Christ, is for all Indians. Of course although not all Hindus are fundamentalists, many fear conversions. Their idea of conversion is that by means of social service Christians draw people, lure them, to make the number of Christians increase. But this attitude of fear is unreasonable, because the conscience of every individual must be free”
“We have held meetings to explain conversion from the Christian point of view – the Archbishop says – and this helped many Hindus understand our position. However they complain that other Christians engage in proselytism, especially Protestant groups which continue to spread and build churches come what may. This is why fundamentalists tend to group all Christians together and start persecution. Some states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have approved an anti-conversion bill and this example is spreading to other states of the Federation”.
The Archbishops explains how the Church strives to overcome fundamentalism. “As the Catholic Bishops’ Conference we have expressed opposition to this bill in an official statement, in which we call for respect for the freedom of conscience and fundamental rights of every individual. We pray that God will help people understand the spirit of our work and we pray for our persecutors that they may come to understand and accept the Word of God. We also strive to make progress in peace-building, ecumenism, and also interreligious dialogue with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs. With all these religions we have meetings to discuss means of spreading peace and harmony through better mutual knowledge and understanding. We want every person to be free and happy”.
Archbishop Sirkar says that every ad limina visit to Rome gives new impulse to the faith. “We visited the prisons where Saint Peter and Saint Paul were kept in chains. Our faith is the faith for which the Apostles gave their lives. They handed this faith down to us. We are the guardians of this same faith and we have the duty to announce it to others”.
Speaking of the situation in Calcutta archdiocese, where there are 150,000 Catholics, the Archbishop says: “To spread God’s love it is important to provide good formation for clergy and laity. Our archdiocese is well organised with 35 parishes engaged in various pastoral and social services. Unfortunately we have only 72 priests, and so we are working hard amongst our young people to encourage vocations. Last year we enrolled 22 new minor seminarians. We work closely with our catechists who are the Church’s arms: they reach the hearts of children and adults. It is very important to ensure proper formation for catechists. Every parish has at least two of them”.
One of the greatest treasures of the Catholic community in Calcutta is certainly the experience and heritage of Mother Teresa. Archbishop Sirkar says: "To understand the spirit of Mother Teresa we have to understand her love for the Eucharist. Her spirituality was totally Eucharistic. The Eucharist is the starting point for every Catholic because it is the source of joy and peace. The Eucharist taught Mother Teresa and it teaches all of us how to sacrifice ourselves for others, how to become children of God. Mother Teresa was able to serve the poor, thanks to the Eucharist, and her courage to speak to everyone, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, came from the Eucharist. This is the great heritage left us by Mother Teresa!”
Meanwhile preparations proceed for the Beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta on October 19 this year in Rome. “The organising committee is at work. Celebrations here in Calcutta will continue after the Beatification to conclude 9 November with a solemn Mass in the presence of civil and religious authorities from all over India. Today Mother Teresa is a ‘global’ mother; she belongs to the whole Church, the whole world. This is the work of God who is saving the world. It is up to us to discern God’s intervention in human history.” PA (Fides Service 31/5/2003 EM lines 56 Words: 778)