Thursday, 26 June 2003

Vatican City (Fides Service) – “Religious fanaticism has no future in India. I am optimistic: India is a great nation with millenary tradition of tolerance. Fanaticism hides questions of political, social and economic nature”. Archbishop Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi said this to Fides Service during a recent conversation while he was in Rome on ad limina visit. The Archbishop is president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India CCBI.
With regard to the present debate in India after the approval in some states of the federation of anti-conversion laws, which has caused different reactions among intellectuals, media and human rights groups, the Archbishop said: “Fundamentalist groups have their programme but we continue on our path along the ways of dialogue. It is important to educate our community to openness and dialogue, so that everyone can see that we are Christians and what we want. Some call us foreigners, but we are Indians and we exercise a rights sanctioned by the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.”
Mgr Toppo explains what is behind religious fanaticism: “Fundamentalist Hindus have their vision of India (according to hindutva ideology, India should have one culture, language and religion - Fides) this is why they killed Mahatma Ghandi. They worked systematically in the last century with propaganda of hatred for Muslims and Christians. But behind this religious fanaticism there are political, social and economic questions. In India there are 100 million Dalits and 70 million Adivasi tribals. For centuries these groups experienced oppression and social exclusion. This makes them very open to the Gospel. Certain fundamentalist groups fear that Dalits and Adivasi will become Christians and they see this as a threat which can overturn the caste system and change the religious composition of the country which is now about 80% Hindu, 12.5% Muslim and 2.6% Christian. To prevent this fundamentalist groups want to transform India into a Hindu country and they want to present themselves to Dalits and Tribals defenders and guarantors, after having excluded them for centuries. Today, thanks to evangelisation, development and human promotion operated by Christians, Tribals are now literate and they are aware of and claim their rights. This should be of concern to the government, but very often it is not. Fanaticism has no future. It will implode because it tries to stop progress and human development of the people”.
In a multi-cultural and multi-religious context “dialogue is a pastoral priority for us, a main raid” the Archbishop continues. “So are ecumenical relations with the many non Catholic denominations, because for every political, social or economic problem everyone sees Christians as one body”.
Among 30 million Christians in India, 16 million are Catholics of three Rites: Latin, SyroMalabar and SyroMalankar. “This is a challenge for us: the three communities must bear witness of unity, through spirituality of communion which already exists but which must be deepened and lived. Evangelisation and witness walk hand in hand. The Pope reminded us of this when we met him during the ad limina visit, an experience of communion with the universal Church which strengthens our faith.”
Archbishop Toppo concludes: “I am optimistic for the future of Christians in India, as was Mother Teresa, as the Holy Father is today. India is a great nation, with a traditional spirit of tolerance which most people still retain. PA (Fides Service 26/6/2003 EM lines 49 Words: 586)